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Health & Wellness

Ask Get Old: Is Alcohol Good for You or Bad for You?

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Can a nightly cocktail or glass of wine really help improve your health?

The Harvard School of Public Health recently took a look at the potential risks and benefits of alcohol consumption. They found that more than 100 studies suggest that moderate drinking may offer some protection against cardiovascular heart disease including heart attacks, stroke, sudden cardiac death and more. In all, the results corresponded to a 25 percent to 40 percent reduction in risk.

Harvard also points out that some research suggests “the potential benefits of moderate drinking aren’t limited to the heart.” Gallstones and Type 2 diabetes, for example, appear less likely to occur in moderate drinkers than in people who may not drink at all.

But what about the potential effects moderate drinking as we age? One study – The 90+ Study – led by the University of California, Irvine, looks at the “oldest-old,” men and women between the ages of 90 and 99 to determine potential factors that may contribute to longevity. Some of the study’s findings suggest that people who drank moderate amounts of alcohol lived longer than those who abstained.

And, a newly published study, conducted at the University Of California San Diego School of Medicine, suggests that older adults who drink moderately on a regular basis are more likely than non-drinkers to live to the age of 85 and beyond without dementia or other cognitive impairments.

But these findings come with a lot of caveats:

For starters, there’s the definition of moderate drinking. To Linda McEvoy, PhD, one of the San Diego researchers, moderate alcohol consumption for men and women 65 and older means a single drink a day. As she points out, “that’s a five-ounce glass of wine, not a great big tumbler. Beyond that amount, drinking loses its protective effect.”

While there may be some health benefits to a having one drink a day, drinking may have a negative impact on health too, especially for some women. As Harvard’s overview notes, there’s possible evidence of a link between drinking and the risk of breast cancer. Researchers have found that having two or more drinks a day may increase the chances of developing breast cancer by as much as 41 percent.

What’s more, Dr. McEvoy points out, as we get older, changes in our ability to metabolize alcohol means we’ll feel its effects at lower levels. Two or three drinks may lead to impaired judgment and coordination, increasing the risk of falls and car crashes.

“The bottom line,” says Dr. McEvoy, “is moderate drinking can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. However, its benefits are minor, so if you don’t drink that doesn’t necessarily mean you should start.”

When considering an alcoholic beverage, it’s important to understand the consequences of drinking beyond moderation.  You can read more about when drinking is too much on Get Healthy Stay  Always talk to your doctor first if you have any questions related to your health, including questions about alcohol consumption.

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