Men with high blood pressure who drink alcohol moderately may not need to cut back because of heart disease risk, researchers say.

Heavy alcohol consumption increases riskof hypertension, or high blood pressure, which isa strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But there is little research on the link between drinking and heart disease among people with high blood pressure.

To find out, Joline Beulens of University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and her colleagues analyzed data from 11,711 health professionals who participated in a survey between 1986 and 2002.

"Because excess alcohol intake clearly increases blood pressure, many men with hypertension are counselled not to drink, but our results suggest that may not be necessary if men drink safely and responsibly," said Beulens.

Study participants were surveyed every four years about how often they drank beer, wine and liquor.The number of non-fatal heart attacks and the incidence of fatal heart disease and stroke were tracked.

Having one to two drinks was linked to a decreased risk of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks, but the overall death rate was not lower, the team reports in Tuesday's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The findings are not a licence for men with high blood pressure to overindulge, since two drinks appeared to be the limit.

Since the study looked at only male health-care professionals, it is not known if the findings apply to women, or to men in other occupations.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, Dutch Heart Association and the European Research Advisory Board funded the research.