Drinking alcohol in a consistent, responsible manner is linked to an overall improvement in health and well being, according to a study of middle-aged Canadians. Subjects who kept their weekly consumption "sensible," according to the authors, also reported feeling happier and had fewer complaints compared to nondrinkers and former drinkers.
The research, published in a recent issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, followed almost 5,400 Canadians for 14 years. The authors primarily operated out of Portland State University in Oregon, with the help of health centers in Quebec and Ontario.
Volunteers rarely changed their drinking habits, with a "sensible" amount of alcohol being up to 21 units a week for men and 14 for women (one unit is roughly equivalent to a 5-ounce glass of wine, though alcohol contents will vary). Researchers tracked health issues and subjects filled out questionnaires in order to quantify their overall emotional disposition. For example, the subjects reported how often they felt "so sad that nothing could cheer you up" and when "everything was an effort." The results were converted into a formula where 1.0 is perfectly healthy and 0.36 is high emotional disability.
Moderate drinkers scored best at an average score of 0.89, while former drinkers ranked last at 0.74. Nondrinkers ranked at 0.78 and heavy drinkers at 0.86. "Moderate alcohol consumption did not have a measurable deleterious effect over time," the study states.
The researchers say the results are important because the study tracks alcohol consumption from middle age onward, whereas prior research lacks age-specific drinking risks. "Indeed, if anything, continued moderate consumption during middle and later life may have been beneficial," they added. However, the researchers say their study does not support starting to drink for health reasons.
The International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, a consortium of health experts, largely supports the paper's findings. Forum reviewer Harvey Finkel, an oncologist at Boston University Medical Center, indicated that the continued following of the subjects will remain key. "As people age, even disregarding medical obstacles, social interactions generally decrease, which leads to both less stimulation to drink and less opportunity to drink," he told Wine Spectator.
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