Woman Drinking Red Wine

Is Alcohol the Secret to Healthy Aging?

Woman Drinking Red WineWho doesn’t want to go back to a time when they had fewer wrinkles, more energy, less inflammation, joints that didn’t ache and a faster metabolism?

Of course, no one wants to actually go back in time. Seriously, who wants to revisit middle school… or even their early 20s for that matter? Really what we want is to simply enjoy great health well into our later years. And we want to see those later years.

Basically, we are all in search of healthy aging and longevity. So it’s no wonder that researchers are trying to unlock these secrets for us. And they didn’t have to look much further than the liquor cabinet.

Alcohol May Be the Tonic of Life

In one study, researchers from Boston pondered why some people are able to maintain great health well into older age, while many others either don’t see age 70, or don’t arrive there in good health.[1]

In hopes of finding an answer, they turned to the Nurses’ Health Study. This large cohort study has been gathering lifestyle and dietary information from female nurses for the past 30 years. This served researchers well, as they hypothesized that what determines health later in life is established through lifestyle choices at middle age or earlier.

When collecting the data, researchers looked at those women who survived to age 70 or older and were free of 11 major chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They were also free of major cognitive issues (namely Alzheimer’s and dementia), other mental health complications, and physical impairment.

They found that moderate, regular alcohol consumption (one to two drinks per day) at midlife was associated with a better chance of achieving healthy aging at age 70 and older, as compared to those women who did not consume alcohol. Conversely, heavy drinking (defined as more than three drinks a day) can reach toxin level, leading to liver failure, heart disease and damage to organs and tissues.

What was quite interesting was the fact that while moderate drinking was associated with a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, physical limitations, dementia and cognitive impairment, it did show one major drawback. Moderate alcohol consumption was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Alcohol and Breast Cancer

Numerous studies show that women are significantly less able to tolerate alcohol than men. Women metabolize alcohol slower than men, thus it takes longer to clear out alcohol’s toxic effects.

Alcohol is particularly problematic for women with excess estrogen, such as those women in perimenopause (menopausal transition). Moreover, excess alcohol can tax your liver, thereby elevating the body’s blood estrogen levels, particularly the more chemically active forms of estrogen.

This can spell disaster for any woman with or at risk for estrogen-dependent breast cancer.

Enjoy That Drink

Based on the findings, researchers suggest that daily, moderate consumption of alcohol may be just what the doctor ordered. Keep in mind that this is not permission for an all-out drinking fest. Moderation is defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

The caveat to this is women with or at risk for breast cancer, as well as those people with a tendency toward addiction for alcohol. In those cases, just saying no is best.

While this study did not make a distinction between types of alcohol (wine, beer or liquor), there has been lots of research on the health benefits of red wine, thanks to resveratrol.[2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

But no matter what you choose, please drink responsibly.


[1] Sun Q and Grodstein F. Healthy ageing in women: Is moderate drinking the secret ingredient? Maturitas. 2012;72:173-4.

[2] Magyar K et al. Cardioprotection by resveratrol: A human clinical trial in patients with stable coronary artery disease. Clin Hemorheol Microcirc. 2012 Jan 3. [Epub ahead of print.]

[3] Thapa D and Ghosh R. Antioxidants for prostate cancer chemoprevention: challenges and opportunities. Biochem Pharmacol. 2012 Jan 11. [Epub ahead of print.]

[4] Gehm BD et al. Resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound found in grapes and wine, is an agonist for the estrogen receptor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1997;94(25):14138-43.

[5] Schneider Y et al. Anti-proliferative effect of resveratrol, a natural component of grapes and wine, on human colonic cancer cells. Cancer Letters. 2000;158(1):85-91.

[6] Moriya J et al. Resveratrol improves hippocampal atrophy in chronic fatigue mice by enhancing neurogenesis and inhibiting apoptosis of granular cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2011;34(3):354-9.