MANY believe a glass or two of wine is good for them, with its antioxidants working to protect the heart as the alcohol hits the head.

But if you are carrying a bit of extra weight, drinking has no protective effect, new research has found.
An obesity expert from London, Tim Lobstein, said previous findings that small amounts of alcohol lowered heart disease risk were taken from surveys more than 40-years-old.

Studies have indicated alcohol may raise levels of good cholesterol and be beneficial to blood vessels, while antioxidants in wine are thought to protect arteries.

‘‘But we were concerned that the findings may not apply to our modern, fatter population,’’ said Dr Lobstein, an adjunct professor at Curtin University’s Public Health Advocacy Institute in Perth.

Researchers revisited the data and found the protective effect held for slim men, but not for those with a Body Mass Index above 27.5. An index of 26 to 30 is considered overweight.

‘‘We need to check other surveys and see if they show the same pattern, and we need to check the data for women,’’ Dr Lobstein said.

‘‘Given the link between even small amounts of alcohol and many common chronic diseases, any heart-healthy effects are likely to be outweighed by other risks. It is best to say that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, especially if you are overweight.’’

He called on governments to impose tougher alcohol industry regulations.

‘‘We are not really aiming this advice at individual drinkers who all have their own reasons for their behaviour which is associated with multiple factors requiring more than a simple message like ours to deal with,’’ he said.

‘‘I would like to see governments implement warning labels on alcoholic products, restrictions on alcohol advertising with stiff penalties for misleading statements, a total ban on the promotion of alcohol to young people and a minimum pricing per unit of alcohol.’’

The Institute’s director, Mike Daube, said there was something ‘‘wonderfully attractive’’ in the notion that alcohol might be good for health. But it was wrong to talk about ‘‘safe’’ drinking levels, he said.

‘‘Alcohol is a cause of enormous long-term as well as short-term health and social problems,’’ said professor Daube, who is also co-chair of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol.

‘‘We need strong and clear health warnings – from the government, not from alcohol companies who are the last people from whom the community should be taking health advice.’’

The Heart Foundation’s director of cardiovascular health, Robert Grenfell, said people should limit themselves to two standard drinks no more than five days of the week.

‘‘However, in terms of heart protective effects, there are better ways to benefit from antioxidants than drinking wine,’’ Dr Grenfell said.

‘‘You are better off eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables.’’