Alcohol: How It Impacts Health and Aging
If you are confused about whether alcohol is good or bad for your health, don’t feel alone. Some studies say wine and other forms of alcohol are good for heart health. Others say they are bad for your brain.
We thought it would be helpful to share a few notable studies so you can feel more informed when you talk with your primary care physician about whether you should drink.
How Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Brain Health?
A British study from the University of Oxford revealed interesting results. Researchers looked at data from 424 men and 103 women who were part of the Whitehall study, an ongoing investigation of the lifestyles and health of over 10,000 British civil servants.
For research purposes, moderate drinking was defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two for men, where a drink equals 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.
Here’s how the 30-year study was conducted and what it revealed about moderate drinking:
- At the start of the study in 1985, all participants were healthy. None were dependent on alcohol.
- Over the course of the next 30 years, participants’ alcohol intake was carefully tracked, and each took tests to measure memory, reasoning, and verbal skills.
- At the end of the study, each participant underwent an MRI scan of the brain.
After researchers analyzed the cognitive test scores and MRI scans, they found a correlation between the degree of shrinkage in the hippocampus—the part of the brain associated with memory and reasoning—and the amount people drank.
Participants who consumed the equivalent of four or more drinks a day were six times more likely to experience hippocampal shrinkage as nondrinkers, while moderate drinkers were at three times the risk. These results are similar to other studies performed in the US and abroad, including Alcohol Consumption and Subclinical Findings on Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain in Older Adults. When it comes to heart health, however, alcohol consumption is a different story. Or is it?
Does Alcohol Improve Heart Health?
Most people have likely heard that a glass of wine a day keeps your heart healthy. While there’s no doubt that heavy drinking contributes to cardiac problems, such as high blood pressure and strokes, does light to moderate drinking have different effects?
According to the American Heart Association, the best-known health benefit of alcohol is a small increase in HDL, known as the good cholesterol. Red wine also contains flavonoids and antioxidants, which are linked to a healthier heart. But there are other, more positive steps you can take to net these same health rewards.
First, engaging in regular physical activity can help raise your HDL cholesterol. Walking, biking, or swimming are low-impact forms of exercise seniors should discuss with their physician.
When it comes to flavonoids and antioxidants, those can be found in a variety of nonalcoholic foods and beverages. The American Institute for Cancer Research says grapes, black and green teas, celery, citrus fruits, leafy greens, and broccoli all contain flavonoids. Working those into your daily diet is probably a healthier option than getting them from alcohol.
Become a Regular at the Farmer’s Market
Should you decide to skip the alcohol and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat, buying them locally might be your goal. How to Make the Most of Your Local Farmer’s Market has tips you will likely find helpful.
Most market vendors enjoy the opportunity to get to know their customers on a personal level. By shopping at the local market each week, you will undoubtedly have an opportunity to talk with the growers and learn more about buying and preparing fresh foods.