Middle-aged women who indulge in moderate consumption of an alcoholic beverage on a regular basis stand a better chance of staying healthy as they grow older, researchers say.
The authors of the study tracked the health of 14,000 mostly white women who had enrolled in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study at midlife (average age 58 years) and again at about age 70. The study concluded that women who drank in moderation on a nightly basis reached 70 in better health than either heavy drinkers or teetotalers.
Compared with non-drinkers, women in their mid-50s who drank 15 to 30 grams of alcohol (one to two drinks) daily had a 28 percent greater likelihood of achieving what the researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health call successful aging, meaning good general health free of conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease in their 70s and beyond, reports BBC News.
And women who drank five to seven days a week had almost double the chance of good overall health in old age compared with complete abstainers.
The researchers cautioned that the study did not prove that alcohol consumption was good for the body and said that the results could be attributed to other lifestyle factors like an active social life and a healthy appetite.
Qi Sun, lead author of the study, said the findings did not mean that women who didn't drink should start doing so. Healthy habits like exercising regularly and staying slim were more important to overall health than alcohol consumption, added Sun.
According to Arun Karlamangla, an associate professor of geriatrics at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, studies like these cannot prove that alcohol has a direct effect on long-term health. Even though Sun and his colleagues accounted for factors like diet, smoking, educational attainment and family history of disease, it's still possible that the moderate drinkers differed in key ways from their peers, reports CNN.
Even if you buy the idea that alcohol is good for you, we really can't tease out what aspect is good for you from a study like this, said Karlamangla.
The study noted that women who consumed alcohol at regular patterns throughout the week, rather than on a single occasion, had somewhat better odds of successful aging. But the authors added that their findings might not apply to men or women of other ethnic groups.
Moderate drinking has been linked with health benefits, but it has been known that heavy drinking raises the risk for liver disease, cancer and other potentially deadly illnesses.
Women should be aware that even moderate drinking has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, Sun said, although he added that this and other studies suggest that the health benefits of having one drink or less a day seem to outweigh the increase in breast-cancer risk.
The findings, published in the Public Library of Science journal, supported current recommendations concerning alcohol limits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines say that having up to one drink a day for women and two a day for men may bring health benefits.