02/11/2015 03:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Health Benefits Of Drinking May Be Smaller Than You Think, Study Says


You may think you're doing yourself a favor by having the occasional glass of wine. Beyond the enjoyment, we've all heard about the much-touted health benefits of light drinking, which reportedly can help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. But a new study claims the positive health effects of alcohol may be way overestimated, especially among older people.

Researchers from the UK and Australia say the longevity benefits for older people may be limited to women over 65. Their findings, published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal, looked at around 53,000 participants aged 50 and over in the Health Survey For England.

They found that women over 65 who drank 10 or fewer drinks per week were less likely to die during the study and follow-up than their teetotaling counterparts. But the supposed protective effects of alcohol consumption stopped there. The same findings weren't apparent in women under 65 or men over 65.

Men under 65 who drank were less likely to die, that is until they adjusted the results to ensure no former drinkers were in the "non-drinking" group. Any longevity benefits dissipated after that was taken into consideration. The authors say that this could be because former drinkers may have stopped drinking due to health problems, meaning they would skew the results of the non-drinking group. It's a shortcoming they say many studies touting the health benefits of alcohol neglect to address.

While researchers generally agree that you shouldn't start drinking if you don't already drink to reap benefits, studies have shown various ways alcohol can be good for you. One study found that just a drink a day could help older adults 60 and over improve their memory and even help preserve the hippocampus. Another study even said that male heart attack survivors who drink are less likely to develop heart disease than men who don't.

Researchers say that although the new study shows the limited impact of alcohol consumption on longevity, future studies are needed to differentiate between those who have never had a drink and those who used to drink, to minimize limitations.

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