Frailty is an umbrella term for the low energy levels, unintentional weight loss and overall decline in physical performance that senior adults can experience as they age. Studies have linked this geriatric condition to high levels of inflammation in the body, which can be measured by the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP) produced by the liver. University of Central Florida graduate researcher Mona Shah sought to expand on past reports that link moderate alcohol consumption with inflammation control by analyzing the role of CRP levels in adults age 65 and older.
"The purpose of the study was to try to better understand why it is that alcohol confers health benefits for older adults," said Daniel Paulson, director of the Orlando Later-Life Developmental Research (OLDeR) Lab and Shah's doctoral adviser at UCF. "We've known for a long time that there are health benefits associated with moderate drinking, but we haven't really understood why."
Using data from the 2008 wave of the Heath and Retirement Study, Shah examined the weekly alcohol consumption (self-reported) and CRP levels (collected through a blood test) of each of the 3,229 participants in the selected sample, and how they related to frailty. The Paulson-Lichtenberg Frailty Index was used to determine whether each participant was considered frail; if they met three of the five criteria (wasting, weakness, slowness, fatigue and falls), then they were deemed frail. The results showed that moderate drinkers (in this case, those who consumed 1 to 14 drinks per week, as defined in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans) showed significantly lower CRP levels and less frailty. Nondrinkers had higher levels of CRP and more frailty. Heavy drinkers (anyone who reported consuming more than 14 drinks per week) were excluded from this study. A path analysis proved that CRP is a viable mechanism to measure the relationship between alcohol and frailty.
According to Paulson, this is just a primary step in the broader quest to understand how alcohol relates to health outcomes. Researchers at the OLDeR Lab plan to continue studying alcohol's impact on health; Paulson hinted to Wine Spectator that there are other conditions that alcohol may positively impact, such as dementia and depression, that he'd like to explore further.