Drinking a small amount of wine appears to extend men's life expectancy by a few years, Dutch researchers said in the latest study to find benefits in moderate drinking. Dutch researchers sought to gauge the impact on health and life expectancy of long-term alcohol consumption, tracking 1,373 men born between 1900 and 1920 who lived in Zutphen, an industrial town in the Netherlands.

The researchers followed alcohol intake in seven surveys carried out over four decades starting in 1960, tracking some men until they died and the rest until 2000. The men were asked about drinking, eating and smoking habits, weight, and prevalence of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

Drinking a small amount of alcohol - less than a glass per day - was associated with lower rates of death from cardiovascular causes and overall causes, the study found. Drinking wine appeared to be more protective than spirits and beer. Drinking an average of about half a glass of wine per day was associated with lowest mortality levels, it found.

Unlike other studies on health effects of alcohol consumption, this one sought to measure any extension in life expectancy, the researchers said. The study found that men who drank wine had a life expectancy 3.8 years longer than those who drank no alcohol. These wine drinkers also had a life expectancy two years longer than those who drank other alcoholic beverages, it found. The study was not designed to look at the well-documented health risks of heavy alcohol consumption.

"The main message is that if you already consume alcoholic beverages, do so moderately - one or two glasses per day maximum," Martinette Streppel, lead author of the study, said in a telephone interview.

"And if you have to choose a certain beverage, then at least drink wine, because it has an additional beneficial effect above just the effect of alcohol itself," added Streppel, of Wageningen University and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands.

The study did not look at how alcohol may provide health benefits, but Streppel said it could be due to an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or to a reduction in blood clotting. Also, red wine has compounds that may ward off the build-up of fatty tissue in the arteries that can cause a stroke or heart attack. reuters