People who drink two or three glasses of wine in the evening are healthier than teetotallers.
Moderate drinkers have lower rates of heart disease, obesity and depression than people who abstain from alcohol entirely, the report indicates.
But while recent research has highlighted the health-giving properties of wine and some other alcoholic drinks, the authors of the latest study sound a note of caution.
Drinking modest amounts of alcohol does not necessarily maker you healthier, they claim.
Rather, people who enjoy alcohol without indulging to excess tend to be wealthier and more successful than average – the sort of people who look after other areas of their health.
Boris Hansel of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, who led the research, said: “Moderate alcohol intake is a powerful marker of a higher social level, superior general health status and lower cardiovascular risk.”
As part of the study the researchers analysed the medical records of 150,000 people from the Paris area who underwent medical examinations between 1999 and 2005.
The split the sample into four groups: people who did not drink; light drinkers; moderate drinkers; and heavy drinkers.
Light drinkers were defined as those who drank one unit alcohol a day – the equivalent of one small glass of wine. Moderate drinkers consumed between one and three units a day – up to half a bottle of weak wine or a pint-and-a-half of standard strength beer.
An analysis of the records showed that light and moderate drinkers scored better than both teetotallers and heavy drinkers on a range of health indicators.
In addition to reduced rates of heart disease and depression, they tended to have lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar levels, and suffer less from stress.
The researchers also found that people who controlled their drinking tended to come from higher socio-economic groups, and do more exercise.
Dr Hansel said: “There is no reason to think that alcohol consumption augments one’s social or professional standing. What we see, in fact, is that people who drink moderately are people who, at the same time, lead healthier lives.”
The study indicated that people who drink moderately “for pleasure” could continue doing so, he said.
But the findings, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a Nature title, do not support the medicinal use of wine or any other alcoholic drink.
Dr Hansel added: “It is not appropriate to promote alcohol consumption as a basis for cardiovascular protection.”
Several recent studies have made a connection between moderate alcohol consumption and good health, but scientists are divided about whether there is a causal link.
Last year research from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands indicated that half a glass of wine a day can add five years to your life. Compounds in red wine have also been shown to stop the build up of fatty tissue in the arteries of animals.