Benefits of a light tipple 'may be confined to women over 65'
MORE evidence that people should cut back on the booze has emerged as a major new study shows health benefits from drinking alcohol are mainly limited to women aged 65 and over - and even they may have been magnified.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal today, pointed to previous research comparing non-drinkers with those who drink moderately, leading to claims it can protect against heart disease and add years to life.
However, those studies may have exaggerated the benefits by selecting groups which skew results by including former heavy drinkers among current non-drinkers.
Other confounding factors which distort results may be missed.
A team of University of London and Australian-based researchers explored the association between alcohol consumption and mortality in different age groups to find out if some drinking limits should be recommended.
Using interview data from Health Survey for England 1998-2008, linked to national mortality figures, samples of 18,368 and 34,523 adults were analysed by sex and age group.
They included people 50-64 years and 65 years and over.
They were interviewed about their average weekly alcohol consumption and use on the heaviest drinking day of the week while adjusting for a range of personal, socioeconomic and lifestyle factors.
Compared with teetotallers, the protective associations were largely limited to men aged 50-64 years who reported consuming units equivalent to around five or six large glasses of wine a week or seven or eight pints of low strength lager. The most they drank on their heaviest day was a small glass of wine.
For women aged 65 or over the maximum was around five small glasses of wine a week.
Little to no protection was found in other age-sex groups, regardless of consumption level, say the authors.
Asked to comment on the study, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health in Dublin said it is "aware of the current debate in relation to the beneficial effects of alcohol or lack thereof."
It did not give a view on where it stood on the debate at this point.
The spokeswoman said that drinks should be spaced out over the week and not consumed in one sitting. Drinking more than the safe levels may cause harm.
Weekly limits of up to 11 standard drinks in a week for women, and 17 for men "do not apply to teenagers or to people who are pregnant, ill, run-down or on medication," she added.
Older people on medications need to be careful with alcohol.