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Moderate Drinking Helps Middle-Aged and Older People Live Longer, Study Finds

Aug. 24, 2010 -- Middle-aged and older adults who drink a moderate amount of alcohol daily may live longer than people who abstain or drink heavily, according to a new study.

Moderate drinking is defined as one to less than three alcoholic drinks per day. Such behavior has been shown to decrease total mortality in middle-aged and older adults, but some say the health benefits have been a bit exaggerated.

"None of the studies that have examined the association of drinking and mortality and cardiovascular disease have been experimental studies in which a group of people was randomly chosen to drink a particular amount of alcohol or to not drink alcohol," Alison A. Moore, professor of medicine and psychiatry in the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, says in a news release.

For the current study, researchers examined late-life alcohol use and mortality during a 20-year period, taking into consideration factors such as previous problem drinking. They followed 1,824 former or current drinkers aged 55 to 65 for the two decades. During that time, they collected information regarding how many drinks each person had daily, health status, history of alcohol use, and other influencing factors. Death certificates confirmed any of the participants' death.

Study Findings

The study confirmed a "survival effect" association between moderate drinking and the mortality risk among middle-aged and older adults.

Among the findings:

  • Death was highest among heavy drinkers and people who did not drink, when researchers took into consideration only age and gender. The nondrinkers (abstainers) had a more than 2 times increased mortality risk than people who drank in moderation.
  • Controlling for additional factors, including former problem drinking status, existing health problems, and others still showed a significantly reduced mortality risk in people with moderate alcohol consumption.

The findings will appear in the November 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are available online ahead of print. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Department of Veterans Affairs funded the study.

Everything in Moderation

Although people who drink in moderation may reap some health benefits, researchers emphasize the need for common sense - and perhaps caution. Having a drink or two a day may, in some cases, be beneficial, but drinking a lot more is not. And it can be dangerous.

"Older persons drinking alcohol should remember that consuming more than two drinks a day exceeds recommended alcohol consumption guidelines in the U.S. and is associated with increased falls, a higher risk of alcohol use problems, and potential adverse interactions with medications," Charles J. Holahan, a professor in the department of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and author of the study, says in a news release.

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