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Chalk one up for beer drinkers in the ongoing debate over which is better at warding off coronary heart disease – a tall frothy one or a glass of wine. But it’s too soon to call the matter closed.

A study in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology – from one of the world’s biggest beer-drinking nations – gives beer the edge. Researchers from the German Center for Research on Aging based their findings on data collected from nearly 800 people, more than a third of whom had coronary heart disease.

Researchers collected blood samples from participants and interviewed them about their drinking habits over the prior 12 months. Those who identified themselves as beer drinkers had the highest levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and the lowest levels of fibrinogen – a protein in the blood-clotting process – two factors associated with lower levels of coronary heart disease. In making a link between alcohol and health, the German study echoes more than 100 studies over the past three decades that have tied moderate consumption – one to three ounces daily – of alcohol to a lower risk of coronary heart disease. But in attempts to prove the advantages of one kind of alcohol over another, research consensus falls apart.

The new study’s beer findings, for example, contradict a 1995 Danish study that found wine drinkers had the advantage heart-wise over drinkers of beer or spirits. A 1996 literature review in the British Medical Journal found some studies showing reduced coronary heart disease among wine drinkers and others showing lower risk for beer or spirit drinkers.

Eric Rimm, the author of that review and an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says it’s the ethanol in alcohol that reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. The apparent advantage of hops over grapes, or vice versa, in any one study may mask the role of more-important factors, such as a participant’s overall health or diet. For example, he said, Danish wine drinkers report twice the intake of fruit and vegetables as beer and spirit drinkers.

Tell the bartender to make that an apple or carrot with your pint.

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