Researchers say moderate alcohol consumption may have health benefits for seniors by reducing inflammation.
Published in the journal Age and Ageing, the report says there is increasing evidence that moderate alcohol consumption leads to such benefits by reducing inflammation, as determined by levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) - a pro-inflammatory marker.
According to co-author Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, of the National Institute on Aging - part of the National Institutes of Health - and colleagues, previous studies have suggested that levels of inflammation increase as we age, and that it is this that contributes to age-related frailty and illness.
In their paper, Dr. Ferrucci and team respond to a recent study published in the same journal that investigated how alcohol intake influences age-related inflammation.
That study - conducted by researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) - assessed the alcohol consumption of more than 3,200 adults aged 65 and older who were part of the 2008 wave of the Health and Retirement Study.
The results revealed that adults who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol had lower levels of inflammation, as determined by CRP levels, and were less frail than those who abstained from alcohol use or were heavy drinkers.
Strong evidence of alcohol-related health benefits, but doubts remain
According to Dr. Ferucci and colleagues, this reduction in inflammation may translate into significant health benefits for older adults.
As an example, the team points to a study conducted by Dr. Luc Djoussé, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, and colleagues, which found a link between moderate alcohol intake and better cardiovascular health.
For that research, Dr. Djoussé and team analyzed the data of more than 26,000 adults who were part of the Women's Health Study.
Compared with abstainers and heavy drinkers, those who consumed 5-14.9 grams of alcohol daily - the equivalent to a small glass of wine or one bottle of beer - were found to be at much lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
What is more, the study identified a 21 percent reduction in markers of inflammation for moderate drinkers, compared with abstainers and occasional drinkers. Compared with heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers showed a 13 percent reduction in inflammation markers.
In their report, Dr. Ferrucci and colleagues say there is increasing evidence that drinking alcohol in moderation can benefit health in older age by reducing inflammation.
However, that is not to say older adults should take up drinking; the team says further research is warranted to gain a better understanding of how moderate alcohol intake might be beneficial before any public health recommendations are made.
"While evidence is growing that regular consumption of small amounts of alcohol, especially as red wine, may have beneficial effects on health, there are still some doubts that this protective association found in epidemiological study is attributable to abstention for alcohol of individuals who are already ill.
Longitudinal studies are needed to shed further light on this question, which has important public health implications."
Dr. Luigi Ferrucci