Middle aged women who indulge in an alcoholic drink or two a day are boosting their chance of good health in their seventies, a new study claims.Enjoying a small tipple regularly and in moderation improves women’s chances of avoiding heart disease, diabetes and other mental and physical disorders in later life, researchers found.
A study of 14,000 female nurses found that those who frequently drank one to two drinks a night, but no more, had a 30 per cent better chance of overall good health in their seventies than those who avoided alcohol altogether.
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol on a nightly basis was shown to be healthier than indulging just once or twice a week.
Women who drank on five to seven nights a week enjoyed a 50 per cent better chance of good health in later life than teetotallers.
Writing in the Public Library of Science journal, the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston said their work showed that “regular, moderate consumption of alcohol” in their fifties could boost overall health among women who survive into their seventies.
Experts cautioned that the study did not prove that alcohol is good for the body and claimed the results could have been down to other lifestyle factors.
Associate Prof Jayne Lucke of the University of Queensland, Australia, said: “Drinking a small amount of alcohol may not cause women to age healthily.
“Rather women who regularly drink a small amount may also have a number of other characteristics, such as good health, an active social life and a healthy appetite, that all work together to promote successful ageing.”
NHS guidelines state that women should not regularly drink more than two or three units of alcohol a day, equal to one and a half standard 175ml glasses of wine or one pint of lager.
A study published last year by researchers in Paris indicated that moderate drinkers had lower rates of heart disease, obesity and depression than people who were teetotal.
The new findings showed that even drinking small amounts of alcohol can have a significant impact on health in later life.
The American researchers measured alcohol intake in grams rather than units, with a glass of wine equal to about 10g and a bottle of beer including 13g.
The results showed that women with an average age of 58 who drank between 5 and 15g per night had a 20 per cent better chance of good health than non-drinkers, while those who drank 15g to 30g were 30 per cent more likely to be healthy in old age.
Dr Qi Sun, who led the study, said: “Low to moderate consumption of alcohol will slightly improve health for women in old age. We would still only recommend regular consumption of one drink per day because that is what the US health guidelines are.”
But European guidelines are slightly higher and previous British studies have that as many as two drinks a night can have a positive health effect, he said.
Dr Sun added: “Even at moderate drinking levels it is highly recommended that you consume alcohol on a regular basis rather than binge drinking at the weekend.
“But for lifetime non-drinkers we would not recommend drinking alcohol just to improve health, because studies have shown that regular exercise and healthy body weight are much more associated with better health at old age than alcohol.”