Study of the Day: One Drink a Day May Lead to One Long Life

Talk about toast-worthy. New research shows, for older women, one alcoholic beverage a day may help keep the doctor away.

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PROBLEM: Many studies have documented the heath benefits of red wine and other alcoholic beverages. Relatively few, however, have looked into the optimal amount of alcohol for middle-aged women to avoid major chronic diseases, cognitive and physical impairment, and mental health limitations. In other words, how much alcohol is really necessary for successful aging?

METHODOLOGY: The authors, led by Qi Sun from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, used information from the U.S. Nurses' Health Study, which began in 1976. For that study, 121,700 female nurses answered periodic food frequency questionnaires to assess their alcohol consumption during middle age. The researchers focused on participants who drank less than 45 grams of alcohol a day when middle-aged (average age: 58), examining the health status of those who lived to 70 years and over.

RESULTS: Women who drank five to 15 grams of alcohol per day (or as much as one drink per day) improved their odds of good overall health when older by 20 percent compared to non-drinkers. Those who drank regularly or at least five days a week were also found to be healthier than occasional drinkers.

CONCLUSION: Regular, moderate consumption of alcohol at midlife may be linked to improved overall health among women who survive to older ages.

SOURCE: The full study, "Alcohol Consumption at Midlife and Successful Ageing in Women: A Prospective Cohort Analysis in the Nurses' Health Study," is published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

Image: Sayeg, Catie 3/Flickr.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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