For those who swear by the medicinal properties of their favourite tipple, here's a sobering thought: A new study claims that the benefits of moderate drinking have been overstated.

Only women over 65 who have a small glass of wine a day make gains - and even these may have been exaggerated, scientists say.

Using the Health Survey for England 1998-2008, researchers from Britain and Australia analysed samples of 52,891 adults by sex, age group (50-64 years and 65 years and over) and alcohol consumption.

Compared with teetotallers, protective associations were "minimal" in men aged 50-64 who drank 15-20 units - five pints of beer - on average per week. Women aged 65-plus who drank 10 units or less per week - seven small glasses of wine - had a "significant reduction" in risk of death.

Advertisement

Previous studies have suggested that, compared with non-drinkers, small amounts of alcohol may protect the heart, in contrast with heavy drinking which carries risks such as heart failure and stroke.

But the latest study published in medical journal The BMJ claims the protective effects of light drinking have been skewed by the selection available for comparison.

However, the findings have been criticised by British statisticians.

The University of Cambridge's Sir David Spiegelhalter said the data didn't support the conclusions.

"Since there are not many teetotallers, there is large uncertainty about what the true underlying relative risks are," he said.

- Daily Mail