Alcohol consumption affects overall mortality. Light to moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of coronary heart disease; epidemiological, physiological and genetic data show a causal relationship. Light to moderate drinking is also associated with a reduced risk of other vascular diseases and probably of type 2 diabetes. Mortality and disease risk increase at higher levels of alcohol consumption. A substantial portion of the benefit of moderate drinking is connected with the alcohol component. However, small differences in effects of various alcoholic beverages on minor risk factors may occur. Proposed protective mechanisms include improved vascular elasticity, anti-thrombotic and anti-inflammatory processes and most importantly, the stimulation of high-density lipoprotein-mediated processes such as reverse cholesterol transport and antioxidative effects.