CAN IT HELP KEEP WOMEN DIVINE?
Getting older is hard work – exercise more, eat less, watch what you drink, keep an eye on the blood pressure and cholesterol . . . it goes on. But now there’s a nice piece of good news for women who enjoy a daily drink. A new study from Harvard researchers suggests that middle-aged women who drink alcohol in moderation have a better chance than nondrinkers of staying healthy as they age, especially if they spread out their consumption over most days of the week. The study followed nearly 14,OOO mostly white women beginning in 1976. Compared to teetotalers, those who averaged roughly 3 to 15 alcoholic drinks spread out over the entire week in their late 5Os had up to 28% higher odds of being free from chronic illness, physical disability, mental health problems, and cognitive decline at age 7O, the study found. While the findings don’t necessarily apply to men or to nonwhite women, they add to the “strong, consistent evidence” that people who drink in moderation are less likely than nondrinkers or heavy drinkers to experience health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia, says Qi Sun, M.D., the lead author of the study and a nutrition researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health. Experiments have shown that moderate alcohol intake – roughly one drink a day for women, or two a day for men – can reduce inflammation, promote healthy cholesterol levels, improve insulin resistance, and help blood vessels function properly. “Those mechanisms actually underlie a lot of chronic diseases and conditions,” Sun explains. That doesn’t mean that women who don’t currently drink should start. Other healthy habits, such as staying slim and exercising regularly, are far more important to overall health than alcohol consumption, Sun says. But the findings do seem to lend additional support to the US Department of Agriculture guidelines, which say that having up to one drink a day for women and two a day for men may bring health benefits.