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Raise a glass to healthy old age

Two drinks a day can fight off illness
Published: 
Friday, September 9, 2011
New study finds drinking 15g to 30g of alcohol a day raised the odds of good overall health in women in later years by 28 per cent, with wine and spirits particularly beneficial.

A glass or two of alcohol a day in middle age could help women enjoy a happy and healthy retirement. Those in their 50s who regularly have a little wine with their dinner are more likely to be free of the ills of old age, from cancer to heart disease, than those who are teetotal or drink to excess. A major study has concluded that their minds are sharper, their bodies are fitter and that they are in better mental health.
The US researchers warn against teetotallers taking up drinking after years of abstinence, but the findings will be toasted by those who like a gin and tonic in the evening. Alcohol experts said that the study should not be used to justify anything beyond very modest levels of drinking. They said the better health could be due to other factors, such as sensible drinkers having a healthier diet and exercising more. They also pointed out that alcohol can cause falls, which are problematic in old age.

The Harvard University researchers took information on how much 120,000 female nurses drank in middle age and compared it with data on their health at 70-plus. The women had an average age of 58 at the start of the study. Almost 11 per cent of those who lived into their 70s had “successfully aged,” that is, they had dodged 11 of the major ills of old age, including cancer, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. They were also mentally sharp, as judged by tests for signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and physically fit, with everyday tasks such as vacuuming or climbing stairs causing them little difficulty. Those who regularly drank light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol in middle age were most likely to be in this group, the journal PLoS Medicine reports. Drinking 15g to 30g of alcohol a day raised the odds of good overall health in later years by 28 per cent, with wine and spirits particularly beneficial. With eight grams equating to one unit of alcohol, this is the equivalent of almost four small glasses of wine a day or four single measures of spirits.

But due to concern that alcohol raises the odds of breast cancer, the researchers recommend that women stick to 15g of alcohol a day. This amount, equal to around two small glasses of wine, boosted the odds of a healthy old age by almost 20 per cent. The figure of 15g a day falls within Department of Health guidelines of two to three units a day for women. The study also showed daily drinking to be more beneficial than tippling just once or twice a week. Daily drinkers were 50 per cent more likely to have a healthy old age than those who never drank. Author Qi Sun, of Harvard’s School of Public Health, said: “For lifetime drinkers, if they drink moderately and sensibly, it is okay for them to continue and enjoy the consumption and maximise their odds of successfully ageing. “But for non-drinkers, I would never recommend that they start drinking.”

He added that men would be expected to benefit similarly from moderate drinking, but there is a lack of evidence on the subject. Professor Jack Lucke, of the University of Queensland in Australia, said: “It would be easy to misinterpret this study as evidence that drinking is good for you. “Rather, the take-home message is that regular small amounts of alcohol in middle age might be good for you.” Graham Skeggs, of the charity Alcohol Concern, said: “While low levels of drinking may not be detrimental, we would certainly not recommend increasing intake in an attempt to be healthy. “Many people can find it hard to control their alcohol intake over time, and it should not be treated as a health supplement.” Moderate consumption of red wine has been credited with a host of health benefits. Among them are preventing blood clots and raising levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good cholesterol” that protects against hardening of the blood vessels. (MailOnline)

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