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Moderate Drinking Can Be Beneficial For Middle-Aged Women

Middle-aged women who drink alcohol moderately yet regularly throughout the week may age more healthfully, according to data from the Nurses’ Health Study.

Photo by  Sigfrid Lundberg via Flickr and a Creative Commons licenseAfter adjusting for variables such as smoking, women who drank light or moderate amounts of alcohol had a modestly increased chance of successful ageing compared to nondrinkers. For example, compared to nondrinkers, women who drank 5 to 15 g of alcohol per day (between one-third and one drink per day) at middle age had about a 20% higher chance of successful ageing, defined as being free of 11 major chronic diseases and having no major cognitive, physical or mental health limitations at age 70.

Independent of total alcohol intake, women who drank alcohol regularly had a better chance of successful ageing than occasional drinkers. Thus, compared to nondrinkers, women who drank five to seven days a week had nearly a 50% greater chance of successful ageing whereas women who drank only one or two days a week had a similar likelihood of successful ageing.

Researchers measured alcohol consumption at midlife using a validated food frequency questionnaire administered in 1980 and 1984 during the Nurses’ Health Study among nearly 14,000 participants who survived to age 70, excluding nearly 2% who drank more than 45 g/d of alcohol at midlife. Results appeared Sept. 6 at PLoS Medicine.

Of all eligible study participants, 1,491 (10.7%) achieved successful aging. Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption at midlife (average age 58 years) was associated with modestly increased odds of successful aging. Compared to nondrinkers, those who imbibed were more likely to successfully age: less than 5 g/d (odds ratio [OR] 1.11; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.96 to 1.29); 5.1 to 15.0 g/d (OR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.01 to 1.40); 15.1 to 30.0 g/d (OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.03 to 1.58); and 30.1 to 45.0 g/d, (OR, 1.24; 0.87 to 1.76).

Independent of total alcohol consumption, those who drank alcohol throughout the week aged successfully more often than nondrinkers: 1 to 2 days per week, (OR, 1.10; 95% CI, 0.94 to 1.30) 3 to 4 days (OR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.01 to 1.64) and 5 to 7 days (OR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.14 to 1.90).

Also, when it came to the tipple of choice, wine, but not beer or liquor, was significantly associated with increased odds of successful ageing (and it was the preferred drink among the majority of women). Comparing more than one drink of wine per day vs. nondrinkers slightly attenuated successful aging: from OR, 1.43, 95% CI, 1.08 to 1.88 to OR, 1.35; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.80.

Researchers noted that this is an observational study, and that all the study participants were women and most had European ancestry. Still, they continued, the findings support 2010 U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines that up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two alcoholic drinks per day for men may provide health benefits.

Previous research has borne out the association. Results of a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2006 reported on a community-based, national random sample of 12,432 Australian women aged 70 to 75 at baseline concluded that nondrinking women were associated with greater risk of death and poorer health-related quality of life (nondrinkers’ hazard ratio [HR], 1.94; 95% CI, 1.4 to 2.6; rare drinkers’ HR, 1.58; 95% CI, 1.2 to 2.1) than women in the low-intake reference category (1 to 2 drinks per day, 3 to 6 days per week). If nondrinkers survived, they had lower health-related quality-of-life scores on surveys of general health, physical functioning, mental health and social functioning.

Study authors commented at the time that, “Alcohol use can be associated with psychological and social well-being which can be considered important health benefits in their own right. The social and pleasurable benefits of drinking, as well as the improved appetite and nutrition that may accompany modest alcohol intake, could also play a role. However, our study was not designed to provide evidence to suggest that non-drinkers should take up alcohol consumption in older age.”

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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