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Health Benefits of Moderate Drinking Extend To Elderly

Armen Hareyan's picture

Moderate Drinking and Health

Older adults who consume a few alcoholic drinks a week are more likely to ward off heart disease and live longer, a new multicenter study led by University of Florida researchers shows, but not for the reasons many might think. In a surprising twist, alcohol's anti-inflammatory properties alone do not explain the reduced risk of heart attack or death associated with light to moderate drinking, the researchers report.

Published in today's (July 24) Archives of Internal Medicine, the current study suggests the cardiovascular benefits of imbibing even one drink a week could instead be tied to not yet fully understood cellular and molecular effects and genetic interactions.

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"Actually we expected to see that the protective effect of alcohol intake was mediated by its anti-inflammatory properties, but we didn't find this, and this is interesting," said Dr. Cinzia Maraldi, the study's lead author and a lecturer in the College of Medicine's department of aging and geriatric research. "Those other mechanisms that could explain that association should be investigated."

Chronic inflammation within the circulatory system has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Previous studies have documented alcohol's anti-inflammatory properties, which limit the overproduction of damaging inflammatory molecules such as interleukin-6, or IL-6, and C-reactive protein, or CRP.

UF Institute on Aging researchers, who collaborated with scientists from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Tennessee, the University of Ferrara in Italy and several other academic institutions, studied 2,487 men and women between the ages of 70 to 79 who had no history of heart disease. At the beginning of the study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, they gathered reports of alcohol consumption and measured blood levels of IL-6 and CRP. Researchers then tracked the participants' health for an average of five-and-a-half years, during which time 397 died and 383 had heart problems.

Compared with the group of people who either never drank or were occasional drinkers, the group of people who reported being moderate drinkers