A drink a day really might keep heart disease at bay, new Canadian research is confirming.

Two studies from the University of Calgary have concluded that moderate alcohol consumption can cut the risk of death from heart disease and stroke by up to 25 per cent compared to people who don't drink at all.

A little bit of alcohol can also significantly increase levels of "good" cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.

The researchers say the key to reaping the benefits of alcohol is to keep consumption moderate -- up to one drink a day for women, and one to two drinks a day for men. They note over-consumption will erase any of alcohol's health advantages and could increase the risk of death.

The studies, which appear in the British Medical Journal, are not new research, but instead are reviews of previous studies. Both reviews were led by Dr. William Ghali of U of C's faculty of medicine.

The first study written by Dr. Paul Ronksley reviewed 84 studies that looked at the link between alcohol consumption and heart disease. The studies compared alcohol drinkers with non-drinkers and their outcomes in relation to heart disease, death from heart disease, incidences of stroke and death from stroke.

It concludes that people who drink alcohol in moderation are 14 to 25 per cent less likely to develop heart disease than those who don't drink alcohol.

The other study by Dr. Susan Brien reviewed 63 studies and found that moderate consumption of alcohol significantly increases levels of "good" cholesterol, which has a protective effect against heart disease. As well, other heart disease markers, such as inflammation and blood vessel clotting, were also lower in moderate drinkers.

Her study concludes that it is the alcohol content that provides the health benefits, not the type of alcoholic beverage, such as wine, beer or spirits.

The authors of both papers acknowledge that a number of previous studies have already concluded essentially the same thing: that moderate alcohol consumption appears to lower the risk of heart disease. But, they say there was need for a new review of the latest studies. This research is the most comprehensive to date, they say.

Dr. Ghali said in a news release from the journal's publisher that the discussion about the impact of alcohol on heart disease should now centre "on how to integrate this evidence into clinical practice and public health messages."

He adds "with respect to public health messages, there may now be an impetus to better communicate to the public that alcohol, in moderation, may have overall health benefits that outweigh the risks in selected subsets of patients… any such strategy would need to be accompanied by rigorous study and oversight of impacts."