Older adults who drink a moderate amount of alcohol may get health benefits not seen among those who abstain from alcohol or drink heavily, a recent study finds.
Moderate drinking was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and death from any cause among a study group of 18,000 men and women ages 70 and older, according to researchers from Monash University in Australia.
Researchers led by Dr. Johannes Neumann from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Australia reported that participants, who were followed for an average of 4.7 years, had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease events if they consumed between 51 and 100 grams, 101 and 150 grams, and more than 150 grams of alcohol per week, compared with those who never consumed alcohol.
For people in the United States, that corresponds to up to 3.5 drinks per week, 3.5 to 7 drinks per week, 7 to 10 drinks per week, and more than 10 drinks per week.
Consumption of 51 to 100 grams of alcohol per week was also associated with a reduced risk of all-cause death, the researchers reported.
“To get the positive benefits, you’d need to be a very moderate drinker in an ongoing way,” Deni Carise, PhD, the chief scientific officer at Recovery Centers of America, told Healthline. “A lot of people don’t drink that way.”
Researchers reported that 18 percent of participants in the study group ingested no alcohol, while 37 percent were drinking 1 to 50 grams of alcohol per week.
About 20 percent reported drinking 51 to 100 grams per week; 15 percent drank 101 to 150 grams per week; and almost 9 percent reported drinking 150 grams of alcohol or more weekly.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
By that measure, some study participants drinking more than 10 drinks per week could fall outside the definition of moderate consumption.
Experts caution that alcohol use also has a variety of health risks, including some that may not be apparent among a healthy study group without prior history of cardiovascular disease or other severe diseases.
Carise noted that alcohol use can cause issues for people with diabetes and can worsen osteoporosis, a particular concern for older people like those included in the Monash study. Older people who drink also increase their risk of accidental falls, she said.
Prior studies have shown that heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, liver disease, and pancreatitis.
For example, while some research shows that moderate drinking improves HDL (good) cholesterol levels, others show that drinking increases levels of unhealthy triglycerides, said Carise.
Whether the purported health benefits of moderate drinking are worth the offsetting detriments to drinking “depends tremendously on the individual, taking into account their age, family history, prior physical and emotional health, as well as their value system,” Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a board certified cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.
“This study would not change my recommendation, which is that individuals who choose to habitually drink mild to moderate quantities of alcohol may experience cardiovascular health benefits,” said Tadwalkar.
“However, this would need to be weighed against the risk for other conditions, especially forms of cancer and liver disease. I still believe that individuals who do not drink should not be advised to start for the purpose of reducing their cardiovascular risk. There are certainly other means to accomplish this that are more effective,” he said.
The study authors noted that participants in their research may have been more physically and socially active than others in the same age group.
The study also excluded former alcohol consumers who may have stopped drinking for various health reasons.