A new study may bring great news for older people. While drinking alcohol is not healthy for most folks, it might actually end up being less harmful to those over the age of 50. The health risks associated with drinking still exist, but they might be not as severe.
For everyone, drinking heavily is linked to a lot of serious health problems. Beyond just increasing the risk of liver disease, it may also cause specific cancers and heart disease. Lastly, it can bring damage to the body’s nervous system, which includes the brain.
This does not, however, mean that having an occasional drink is bad for you. Drinking in moderation may, in fact, be good for your health.
This has been proven by several studies, which generally conclude that low levels of alcohol may have a protective effect. For example, one study has shown that light to moderate drinking provided protection against mortality from different causes, including cardiovascular disease.
While this news is welcome to those who love to reach for a glass of wine or bottle of beer once in a while, the debate on the benefits of alcohol is still ongoing.
A New Study Claims Alcohol Is Not As Bad For Older People
Adding to this debate is a recent study conducted by a doctor from the Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts, Dr. Timothy Naimi. The study’s conclusions may be controversial to some.
The study’s methodology is also interesting, as it focused on how earlier studies have measured the effects of alcohol. Specifically, they argue that these earlier measurements were flawed. This is because they have been mainly using observation as methodology and recruited subjects who are older than 50 years of age.
The authors find this methodology a huge problem because it already excludes people who might have already passed away because of alcohol before they turned 50. This is an unfortunate, though unintentional selection bias because as they pointed out, “deceased persons can no longer be enrolled in cohort studies.“
What this means is that those who have participated in these studies are those over 50 and who have already “survived“ their earlier alcohol consumption. They might also be generally in better health or have drunk alcohol only in moderation.
In order to paint a more accurate picture, studies should take into account that about 40% of deaths caused by alcohol consumption actually occur before the patients turn 50 years of age. Thus, conducting studies on those over this age can lead to skewed results.
A New Approach To Studying Deaths Due To Alcohol Use
Beyond just criticizing previous studies’ methodology, Dr. Naimi’s research tried to find more accurate data on deaths that may be linked to alcohol consumption.
They used the data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), specifically their numbers of Alcohol-Related Disease Impact Application. This provides estimates on a national and state level what the health impacts of alcohol use may be, from deaths to possible years of life lost.
Their analysis showed very interesting results, that one’s risk of alcohol-related diseases is very influenced by age. Patients between the ages of 20 and 49 represent 35.8% of deaths related to alcohol. On the other hand, only 4.5% of deaths were prevented by drinking alcohol.
For those 65 years of age or older, the numbers of deaths are similar, at 35%. However, 80% of deaths were found to be prevented by alcohol use at this age.
Another interesting statistic is that 58.4% of reported years of life lost belong to the younger age range between 20 and 49. They also only account for 14.5% of years saved by alcohol consumption.
The numbers are opposite for the over-65 subjects. Only 15% belong in those with years of life lost due to drinking, but a whopping 50% of those who saved years of life.
This can be summarized simply that younger people have higher rates of dying because of drinking than not consuming alcohol. On the other hand, older people are more likely to enjoy the health benefits of drinking moderately.
While these results still do not encourage heavy drinking, which is still harmful to everyone, it does suggest that people belonging to a certain age group may, in fact, benefit from their occasional glass of wine.