After adjusting their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off by factors such as the women's ages and whether they smoked, the researchers found that the healthiest women in old age were more likely to have been drinkers in midlife. Sun estimated that the moderate drinkers were about 20 percent more likely to be healthy later in life.
And routinely drinking light to moderate amounts of alcohol appeared to have more benefit than drinking only occasionally, the researchers said.
As for men, the study authors write that there's sparse research into the effect of midlife drinking on their health later in life.
David Melzer, a professor of epidemiology and public health at Peninsula Medical School in the United Kingdom, said people should be cautious about drinking too much. According to him, more than two drinks a day for women or three for men is bad for a person's health. And people should remember that those are "old-fashioned" sized drinks, not "supersized," he said.
He adds that the study limits itself to women who were in good shape in middle age. "The small possible benefit of alcohol may be outweighed in people with disease," he said, "and especially in those on many sorts of medication that can interact with alcohol."
For more on alcohol use, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Qi Sun, M.D., ScD, instructor in medicine, Harvard School of Public Health, and Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; David Melzer, Ph.D., professor, epidemiology and public health, Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, England; September 2011 PLoS Medicine
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