For Women, Moderate Midlife Drinking Linked to Healthier
THURSDAY, Sept. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Women who consume moderate
amounts of alcohol in middle age are somewhat more likely than
teetotalers to be in good physical and mental health in old age,
new research finds.
The study doesn't prove that moderate drinking will lead to
better health compared to not drinking, since it's possible that
other factors could account for the difference. Also, the research
doesn't examine the long-term cost of drinking, say, wine instead
of milk with dinner.
And study author Dr. Qi Sun doesn't recommend that middle-aged
women start drinking if they don't already. Still, "if you are an
otherwise healthy person, and you're a long-term light-to-moderate
drinker, this may have some benefits," said Sun, an instructor in
medicine at Harvard School of Public Health.
Scientists have found evidence that moderate drinking can
benefit health, particularly in terms of heart disease, stroke and
brain function, Sun said. It's not clear exactly how alcohol
benefits health, but Sun said it may have something to do with how
alcohol reduces inflammation in the body.
In the new study, published in the September issue of
PLoS Medicine, Sun and colleagues examined the medical records of 13,894 nurses who were middle-aged in the 1980s (median age was 58) and lived to be at least 70. The health of the women was updated through the decades, and the study excluded heavy drinkers or those with possible alcohol problems.
The researchers then focused on 1,491 women (11 percent) who had
aged successfully, meaning they didn't suffer from chronic diseases
such as diabetes or report physical or mental limitations in old
age. They compared them to the other women and tried to determine
whether those who drank in midlife -- they tended to drink wine --
did any better health-wise.
Of those who had no major health problems in old age, only 22
percent were non-drinkers. Sixty-two percent drank about one drink
a day (15 grams of alcohol); nearly 10 percent drank one to two
drinks daily, and 3 percent downed two to three drinks a day.
After adjusting their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off
by factors such as the women's ages and whether they smoked, the
researchers found that the healthiest women in old age were more
likely to have been drinkers in midlife. Sun estimated that the
moderate drinkers were about 20 percent more likely to be healthy
later in life.
And routinely drinking light to moderate amounts of alcohol
appeared to have more benefit than drinking only occasionally, the
As for men, the study authors write that there's sparse research
into the effect of midlife drinking on their health later in
David Melzer, a professor of epidemiology and public health at
Peninsula Medical School in the United Kingdom, said people should
be cautious about drinking too much. According to him, more than
two drinks a day for women or three for men is bad for a person's
health. And people should remember that those are "old-fashioned"
sized drinks, not "supersized," he said.
He adds that the study limits itself to women who were in good
shape in middle age. "The small possible benefit of alcohol may be
outweighed in people with disease," he said, "and especially in
those on many sorts of medication that can interact with
For more on
alcohol use, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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