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A drink to healthy aging: The association between older women’s use of alcohol and their health-related quality of life
A relatively large cohort study conducted among elderly women has demonstrated that frequent light to- moderate alcohol consumption not only reduced the risk of total mortality, but that such practice was associated with better health related quality of life for survivors. The biological mechanisms of such psychological and social benefits from frequent light-to-moderate alcohol drinking are not clear; the authors suggest that besides the beneficial effect of ethanol itself, other factors may include the social and pleasurable benefits of drinking, as well as the improved appetite and nutrition that may accompany modest alcohol intake. To assess the relationship between alcohol intake and mortality in a cohort of 12,000 women aged 70 and older and to explore the relationship between level of alcohol use and changes in physical and mental health-related quality of life, the authors evaluated data from national longitudinal surveys from 1996 to 2002.

Women who did not consume alcohol or who drank rarely were more likely to die than women in the low-intake reference category (1–2 drinks per day). Non-drinkers/rare drinkers who survived had lower health related quality-of-life scores on the General Health and Physical Functioning subscales of the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short Form Survey after adjustment for smoking, comorbidity, education, body mass index, and area of residence.

Nondrinkers also scored lower on the Mental Health and Social Functioning subscales. The authors onclude that being a nondrinker of alcohol is associated with greater risk of death and poorer health-related quality of life, and that regular, moderate alcohol intake has health benefits for older women.

Comments by R. Curtis Ellison: Few studies have attempted to assess alcohol’s effect on quality of life, indicated by physical and mental well-being, especially among elderly women. Consistent with previous findings, the authors reported that nondrinkers and women who rarely drink had a significantly higher risk of dying [HR = 1.94 (95% CI: 1.4- 2.6)] during the survey period than women who consumed alcoholic beverages at a level of 1-2 drinks per day. Most importantly, the current study demonstrated that women who consumed 1-2 drinks per day on 3-6 days per week enjoyed the best general health status and higher physical functioning. The difference in general health, physical functioning, mental health and social functioning, was consistent over three survey periods among three groups, suggesting a beneficial effect of light to- moderate alcohol consumption. The highest level of functioning in (A) general health, (B) physical, (C) mental, and (D) social functioning are for the “low intake2” subjects (top dotted lines), who reported 1–2 drinks/day on 3–6 days/wk.

Although there was a decrease in function over time, these subjects remained at higher levels throughout follow up than subjects who rarely drank or were non-drinkers. This study supports especially the health effects in elderly women of small amounts of alcohol on a frequent basis: the best preservation of all types of function was among women consuming 1 to 2 drinks/day on 3 to 6 days per week.

Article: Byles J, Young A, Furuya H, Parkinson L. A drink to healthy aging: The association between older women’s use of alcohol and their health-related quality of life. J Am Geriatr Soc 2006;54:1341– 1347.

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