Moderate Drinking May Give Health Benefits to Seniors

The golden years of later life tend to be accompanied by declining health. Any tactic for slowing the decline or even improving health is welcome news. Many researchers have long suspected that moderate drinking offers health benefits for seniors, and three interesting studies have advanced this notion.

While heavy drinking has been associated with a host of health problems, the picture is markedly different for moderate drinking. Chronic inflammation has been linked to atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and other degenerative diseases, and a growing body of evidence appears to indicate that moderate drinking reduces inflammation.

A study published in Age and Ageing, a prominent medical journal, added support to this possibility. A research team at the University of Central Florida re-examined the alcohol-consumption habits of over 3,200 adults at least 65 years old who had joined the 2008 division of the massive Health and Retirement Study. Participants who imbibed moderate quantities of alcohol tended to show reduced inflammation levels as measured by their C-reactive protein levels, which researchers consider to be reliable pro-inflammatory markers, and to be less frail than abstainers or heavy drinkers.

subsequent report, published in the same journal, responded to the earlier study by adding credence to its tentative conclusions. The new report found that reducing inflammation levels through moderate alcohol consumption provides a promising approach to decreasing the incidence of frailty among seniors and increasing the likelihood of an improved health outlook. The report suggested that further research be conducted into the possible link between moderate alcohol consumption and beneficial health effects.

Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, who co-authored the paper, said that other studies had accumulated evidence supporting the idea that aging individuals typically experience increasing levels of inflammation that then contribute significantly to age-related frailty and other markers of declining health.

Dr. Ferucci and his colleagues at the National Institute on Aging pointed out another study, conducted by Dr. Luc Djoussé and others at Harvard Medical School, that linked moderate alcohol consumption to improved cardiovascular health. Dr. Djoussé led a team of researchers in an extensive analysis of 26,399 adult women from the landmarkWomen’s Health Study. Participants who limited themselves to the daily consumption of 5-14.9 grams of alcohol, approximately equivalent to a single glass of wine or a standard bottle of beer, exhibited a significant reduction in their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Moderate drinkers exhibited a 21-percent reduction in inflammation markers as compared to lighter drinkers and teetotalers, but the reduction dropped to 13 percent as compared to heavy drinkers.

Cautioning against relying on epidemiological studies to support the conclusion that older adults should begin regularly imbibing alcohol, which carries a raft of implications for public health, Dr. Ferrucci said that further research is needed to cast more light on the potential health benefits of moderate drinking.