Daily drink for middle-aged women may promote health in later years

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Middle-aged women who drink a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage each day are more likely to be healthier at age 70 than non-drinkers, according to a new Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) study.

Qi Sun, research associate in nutrition at HSPH, and his colleagues analyzed data on 13,984 female nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study. Compared with nondrinkers, women who consumed 15 grams or less of alcohol a day—the equivalent of one alcoholic beverage of any type —at about age 58 were found more likely to “age successfully,” namely being free of 11 chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, maintaining good physical and cognitive functions, and having a good mental status at age 70. Those who drank between one-third and one drink per day five to seven days a week were almost 50 percent more likely to be in good health as they aged, even after taking smoking and other factors into account.

The latest findings were published online Sept. 6, 2011, in PLoS Medicine.

Excessive alcohol use has clear adverse effects on human health, including liver damage, increased risk of some cancers, and increased likelihood of traffic accidents, depression, and violence. One particular concern of alcohol use for women is that alcohol use may lead to increased risk of developing breast cancer. This study provided evidence that the benefits of moderate alcohol use on overall health may outweigh the risk of one specific disease. Meanwhile, previous studies conducted by the researchers emphasized the importance of physical activity and healthy body weight in achieving successful aging. The beneficial effects of these lifestyle factors were much stronger than moderate alcohol use.