A new study has claimed that health benefits of alcohol may have been over-exaggerated from the reality. Some studies have suggested that, compared with non-drinkers, moderate consumption of alcohol may protect against cardiovascular disease and bring mortality benefits. But this association is contentious, with some arguing that the protective effects of light drinking may be exaggerated by “selection biases” in studies that could skew results.

There is also concern about increasing alcohol consumption among older people and risk of alcohol related problems due to impaired metabolism of alcohol with age.

Royal College of Psychiatrists has recommended that alcohol consumption should be reduced for both sexes to a maximum of 11 units per week or 1.5 units a day for people aged 65 years or more. But data to support this advice is lacking. Now, UK and Australian based researchers have explored the association, using interview data from Health Survey for England 1998-2008 linked to national mortality data, samples of 18,368 and 34,523 adults.

They analyzed the data by sex and age group (50-64 years and 65 years and over). Participants were interviewed about their average weekly alcohol consumption and use on the heaviest drinking day of the week. Results were adjusted for a range of personal, socioeconomic, and lifestyle factors. Compared with never drinkers, protective associations were largely limited to men aged 50-64 years who reported consuming 15-20 units on average per week or 0.1-1.5 units on the heaviest day, and to women aged 65 and over who reported consuming 10 units or less on average per week and at all levels of heaviest day use.

Little to no protection was found in other age-sex groups, regardless of consumption level, say the authors. The authors also stress that protective associations “may be explained by selection biases”. They conclude that one possibility is that this study “may have better isolated the true effect of alcohol consumption on mortality” and add that their results do not support the introduction of age specific recommended alcohol limits for persons aged 65 years and over.

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