Alcohol Linked to Healthy Aging

A Harvard study has linked moderate alcohol consumption with healthier aging in middle-aged caucasian women.

The study analyzed data from more than 14,000 middle-aged women—the average age was 58—and then again after they reached 70. The study found that women who consumed, on average, approximately one standard drink per day had a greater chance of making it to 70 without chronic illness, or mental or physical impairments.

Lead scientist on the study Qi Sun, a research associate at Harvard Medical School and the School of Public Health, said that the study unequivocally pointed toward the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.

“In comparison with non-drinkers, drinkers have very different lifestyles,” Sun said. “But we adjusted for all those factors, including socio-economic status. We believe there are some beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption.”

Sun said that the next step would be to conduct a similar study on men.

“It would be very interesting to look at the same association in men,” Sun said. “There is no study in men looking at moderate consumption.”

Sun also said he hopes to study the effect of different drinking behaviors in early life.

“Some studies suggest that early life exposure [to alcohol] is also very important in how people age,” he said.

But for some Harvard students, the idea of drinking one standard drink per day for the sake of one’s health does not make much sense.

“I mean, if they proved that it was healthier to drink one drink a day, I would definitely like think about it,” said Kate A. Abraham ’14. “But there’s healthier options that I would probably look into.”

Abraham said that she would probably aim to do things that had a more significant impact on her well-being than to drink daily.

“I don’t think alcohol would be something that I would think ‘oh, I need to do that every day,’” Abraham said.

But Kate Mordrin, a woman from Ontario, Canada and visiting Harvard Bookstore, who said she is “over fifty,” was very excited about the results of the study.

“It seems almost too good to be true,” she said. “I have to tell all my friends.”

She said that while the news is counterintuitive she is more than happy to drink for her health.

“I guess I’ll be having a glass of wine tonight.”

The study was published on September 6 in PLoS Medicine.

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

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