Moderate drinking cuts heart disease risk in younger adults, new research shows.

However, young adults are at low risk for heart disease, the researchers point out in the journal Circulation, "and the beneficial effects obtained by a moderate alcohol intake may be negligible compared with the increased risk of, for instance, traffic accidents and cancer."

Moderate drinking — typically defined as a drink or two a day — can be heart healthy in older men and women, although heavy drinking does not protect the heart, and carries many other health risks.

Because heart disease is so rare in men under 40 and women under 50, it has been difficult to study the effects of alcohol consumption on heart disease risk in these younger individuals.

To address this problem, Dr. Alberto Ascherio of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and colleagues pooled data from eight studies from North America and Europe that included over 192,000 women and nearly 75,000 men. The men's average age was around 50, while the average age for women was 54. At the study's outset, all of the participants were free from cardiovascular disease, and all had reported their alcohol drinking habits.

Overall, Ascherio and his colleagues found, consuming 30 grams of alcohol a day (about two or three standard drinks) reduced women's risk of developing heart disease by 42 percent, and cut men's risk by 31 percent. When the researchers broke the study participants into three age categories — those 50 and under, those 50 to 59, and people 60 and older — they saw the same pattern of reduced risk with moderate drinking in each age group.

Given that the risk of heart disease is so low in younger people, Ascherio and his colleagues say, the protective effects of alcohol are likely to be stronger in older people at higher risk of heart problems. However, all possible health risks of alcohol need to be taken into account when developing guidelines on alcohol consumption for people of different ages, they conclude.