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Regular alcohol consumption is associated with increasing quality of life and mood in older men and women
The authors state that this study examines the sex-specific association between alcohol intake and health-related quality of life in middle class community-dwelling older adults. Information on alcohol intake and measures of quality of life were obtained from 1,594 participants (n = 633 men, n = 961 women) aged 50–97 years during a research clinic visit in 1992–1996, and from their responses to a phone interview and mailed questionnaires. Quality of life measures included the Medical Outcome Study Short Form 36 (SF-36), Quality of Well-Being (QWB) Scale, Life Satisfaction Index-Z (LSI-Z), and Satisfaction with Life Survey (SWLS). Depressed mood was assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). Men and women were stratified into four groups of reported alcohol intake: non-drinker, occasional drinker (alcohol <3 times/week), light regular drinker (alcohol intake ≥3 times/week, but <170 g/week), and moderate regular drinker (alcohol intake ≥3 times/week and ≥170 g/week).

Average age of both sexes was 72±10 years. Only 11% of the men and 17% of the women were nondrinkers; 54% of men and 40% of women reported drinking alcohol ≥3 times per week; 18% of men and 7.5% of women were heavier regular drinkers. In multivariable regression analyses, increasing frequency of alcohol use was positively associated with better quality of life in men and in women. Associations were not explained by age, physical activity, smoking, depressed mood, or common chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The authors conclude that regular alcohol consumption is associated with increased quality of life in older men and women.

Professor R Curtis Ellison comments: Data is quite clear from previous studies that moderate drinkers have fewer of the common diseases of ageing (e.g., heart disease, stroke, dementia, osteoporosis). This analysis suggests that moderate drinkers report better mood (greater satisfaction with life, less depression) and an overall better quality of life.

The figure below from the paper shows that for all of the measures of quality of well being and satisfaction with life, drinkers had higher scores. In addition, depression scores were lower among alcohol consumers than among abstainers. The subjects in this analysis were not heavy drinkers, as the average was about 1 drink/day for men and a little over one-half of a typical drink/day for women. About one half stated that they had alcohol on 3 or more days per week, so they tended to be regular drinkers. However, 13.3% of men and 5.3% of women had scores on the CAGE questionnaire indicating that they were past or current abusers.

Since this is a cross-sectional assessment, it cannot provide conclusive evidence of which came first: the alcohol consumption or better assessment of well being. It could be that people who feel better drink alcohol, while those who are depressed or have poorer health are less likely to drink. (For heavier drinkers, at least, the opposite is often reported: depressed people often drink more.) In this and most other studies, adjusting outcomes for a large number of measures of socio-economic status and of co-morbidities (such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes) did not weaken the positive association between alcohol and measures of well-being.

Source: Chan AM, von Mühlen D, Kritz-Silverstein D, Barrett-Connor E. Regular alcohol consumption is associated with increasing quality of life and mood in older men and women: The Rancho Bernardo Study. Maturitas 2009;62:294–300.

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