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Alcohol and Aging: Good News & Bad News


August 3, 2022 – First the bad news.  A headline in the New York Post on July 26 read “Just five alcoholic drinks a week will age you – and mess up your DNA”.  Great.  Yet there are a whole lot of studies showing that people who drink moderately live longer than both teetotalers and people who drink too much.  More on that coming up.

The study came from scientists at Oxford University and was published in Molecular Psychiatry.  They studied the length of telomeres in more than 245,000 people, telomeres being the protective coating on the ends of chromosomes.  (One reference  compared them to the ends of shoelaces.)  As these telomeres get shorter and the chromosome can no longer divide, signs of aging diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, dementia, and so on appear.

Stethoscope with Heart

In the study, if the amount of alcohol consumed in a week was 17 or more units, the participants were in trouble.  Seventeen units equalled eight pints of beer or five large glasses of wine.  However reducing intake could have beneficial results.

However, on the bright side, Wine Spectator reports on a study in Japan of cognitive function in participants over age 75 that found regular wine consumption was beneficial.  Researchers at Osaka University and the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology studied 1,226 men and women ages 75 to 85 for two years.  The study focused on the frequency of consumption from zero to less than one drink per week, a drink one to six days per week, or a drink daily as well as the type of alcoholic beverage whether beer, wine, whisky or sake.

Older Asian Couple Drinking

The researchers found that participants who drank one to six days a week had better cognitive function than those who drank every day and those who didn’t drink at all.  They then accounted for the type of alcohol that was consumed and found that wine produced the best cognitive results.  It could be wine has specific substances such as antioxidants and in red wine, resveratrol, that are not found in beer or spirits.

The researchers also note, as have other studies, that alcohol consumption is usually an enjoyable and convivial social occasion, which affects health positively.  In fact many studies on aging urge senior citizens to seek social opportunities in order to stay healthy and active.