It is not a secret for all of us that consuming a glass or two of wine every day can be good for the heart. But is it true that light to moderate alcohol drinking is actually good for elderly people and even may prevent the development of physical disability? The researchers from University of California in Los Angeles suggest that indeed, it is now a scientifically proven fact.
A study was led by Dr. Arun S. Karlamangla, an associate Professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who said that moderate drinking among seniors can significantly reduce the likelihood of physical problem developing in them that could later cause problems while walking, grooming, eating, dressing, personal hygiene, arising, and daily errands and chores. "If you start out in good health, alcohol consumption at light to moderate levels can be beneficial," said Dr. Karlamangla, "But if you don't start out healthy, alcohol will not give you a benefit," added the lead author of the study which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Dr. Arun and his colleagues analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey's Epidemiologic Follow-Up Study(1982, 1987 and 1992) which included 4,276 split evenly male and female, with an average age of 60.4 years. Drinkers were defined as light to moderate if they consumed less than 15 drinks per week and less than five drinks per drinking day (less than four per day for women). Heavy drinking was classified as 15 or more drinks per week, or five or more a day. Abstainers were those who consumed less than 12 alcohol beverages the previous year.
Participants had been asked if they experienced no difficulty, some difficulty, much difficulty or complete inability performing any of the physical activities when alone and without help from others. Disability and drinking status of the elderly was established at the beginning of the study. 51 percent of men and 45 percent of women were light to moderate drinkers, 32 percent of men and 51 percent of women abstained from alcohol, and 17 percent of men and 4 percent of women were heavy drinkers. None of the seniors reported any disabilities while performing daily activities, but five years later 7 percent died and 15 percent became disabled.
The researchers noted that light to moderate drinkers in good health had a lower risk for developing new disabilities compared with heavy drinkers and abstainers. However, after controlling for confounding variables such as age, smoking, exercise, heart attacks and strokes, the benefits of alcohol consumption were seen only in physically healthier seniors, there was no such benefit seen in those who rated their health as poor. "Light to moderate alcohol consumption appears to have disability prevention benefits only in men and women in relatively good health. 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 even be deleterious for them," the researchers wrote.
The conclusion of the study was that:
Healthy moderate drinkers had 17.7 percent chance of becoming disabled or dying in five years.
Abstainers had 26.7 percent chance of dying or becoming disabled during in the same period of time.
Heavy drinkers had 21.4 percent.
Dr. Karlamangla said that patients in fair or poor health might be taking some or a lot of medications regularly. He noted that alcohol interacts with most of medical products, and the drug-alcohol interaction "may be responsible for more harm than good." Professor speculates that seniors who benefit from the effects of light to moderate drinking might have started drinking at a younger age. "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."
Other authors of the study are: Catherine A. Sarkisian, Deborah M. Kado, Howard Dedes, Diana H. Liao, Sungjin Kim, David B. Reuben, Gail A. Greendale and Alison A. Moore (all of the David Geffen School of Medicine). Catherine Sarkisian is also affiliated with the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center of the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
The study was supported by the John A. Hartford Foundation/American Federation for Aging Research Medical Student Geriatrics Scholars Program, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center of the National Institute on Aging.