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Research Summary

Regular Moderate Alcohol Intake Associated with “Successful Aging” in Women

Whether moderate alcohol intake is associated with overall health and well-being in aging populations is not known. Investigators prospectively examined alcohol use assessed at midlife in relation to successful aging* among 13,894 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study. The sample included women age 70 years or older whose health status had been updated throughout the study. Those who reported drinking heavily at midlife (>45 g of ethanol per day) were excluded.

  • Only 11% (1491) of the women met successful aging criteria.
  • Compared with nondrinkers,
    • moderate drinkers, especially those who consumed wine and drank regularly, were more likely to exhibit successful aging. The largest benefit (an increase of 28%) was seen in women who reported drinking 15.1–30 g alcohol** per day.
    • women who drank only 1 to 2 days per week had little increase in their likelihood of achieving successful aging, while those who drank at least 5 days per week had almost a 50% greater chance of successful aging.

*Defined as survival to age 70 years; not having a major chronic disease (e.g., coronary disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes); and having no major cognitive impairment, physical impairment, or mental health problems.
**A serving was defined as 13.2 g alcohol for 1 bottle of beer, 10.8 g for 1 glass of wine, and 15.1 g for 1 drink of liquor in this study.

Comments:

The definition of successful aging used in this study is questionable in that a large percentage of people who did not meet these criteria may have made substantial contributions to society and should be considered “successful.” Nevertheless, these results support earlier findings showing that many aspects of successful aging, in addition to just survival, are associated with regular moderate alcohol consumption. As usual for observational studies, how much if any of the association is causal cannot be determined from these data. R. Curtis Ellison, MD

Reference:

Sun Q, Townsend MK, Okereke OI, et al. Alcohol consumption at midlife and successful ageing in women: a prospective cohort analysis in the nurses' health study. PLoS Med. 2011;8(9):e1001090.

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