Moderate Drinking Helps Healthy Older Patients

Moderate drinkers ages 50 and older were less likely to suffer debilitating health problems than those who abstained from drinking and those who drank heavily, according to researchers from UCLA.

MedPage Today reported Jan. 16 that the study, while confirming the health benefits of moderate alcohol use, also showed that drinking in moderation only improved health for those who were healthy in the first place, not those who described their health going into the study as “fair” or “poor.”

“It is possible that those who report poor health have progressed too far on the pathway to disability to accrue benefits from alcohol consumption and that alcohol consumption may be even deleterious for them,” the study said.

Researcher Arun S. Karlamangla, M.D., and colleagues concluded that moderate, healthy drinkers were 25 percent less likely to develop physical problems that interfered with tasks like walking, dressing and grooming over the course of the five-year study period. “They were probably middle-aged adults when they began drinking a glass of wine with dinner,” he said. “It is that kind of drinking that is beneficial. Possible benefits we see are probably due to long-term drinking, not drinking that was recently started.”

The study found that healthy moderate drinkers had a 17.7 percent chance of becoming disabled, compared to 26.7 percent for abstainers and 21.4 percent for heavy drinkers. Each additional weekly drink — up to nine for healthy women and up to 15 for healthy men — correlated with a 3-8 percent reduction in the risk of becoming disabled, researchers found.

Moderate drinking was defined as consuming less than 15 drinks weekly, including less than five drinks daily for men and less than four drinks daily for women. The health benefits from moderate drinking probably were due to decreased atherosclerosis, researchers said.

The study appeared in the Jan. 1, 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.