Alcohol can be less harmful to people over 50 years

A new research looks at the safety impact of alcohol intake at various ages. The authors believe that the health risks may be less serious for people over the age of 50.

An old man drinking alcohol
If alcohol does have protective effects, they are not distributed evenly across all ages.

Heavy drinking is linked with an number of negative health effects.

Which involve some cancer, heart and liver disease and nervous system damage including brain injury.

However, as the mainstream press has covered it exhaustively, drinking in moderation may have certain health benefits.

A number of studies have found that drinking low-level alcohol may have a protective effect.

For example, one study showed light and moderate drinking protected against all-cause mortality, as well as cardiovascular disease-related mortality.

Not surprisingly, these stories were well-received and widely read, but not all scholars agree, and the debate is ongoing.

A new study led by Dr. Timothy Naimi of the Massachusetts Boston Medical Center adds additional fuel to a blaze that is already raging.

The authors are using the methods used in previous research, and reporting their results earlier this week in the Journal of Research on Alcohol and Drugs.

A fresh approach

The researchers argue that the manner in which earlier studies measured the health effects of alcohol may be inaccurate. In particular, they note that the studies are usually retrospective and typically recruit participants over 50 years of age.

The authors argue that this is unfair as it excludes someone who might have died before age 50, due to alcohol. “Deceased individuals can not be included in retrospective studies,” as they dryly point out. Dr. Naimi first discussed his concerns about this implicit selection bias in a 2017 paper published in the journal Addiction.

“Those who are established drinkers at age 50 are ‘survivors’ of their alcohol consumption who [initially] might have been healthier or have had safer drinking patterns.”

Dr. Timothy Naimi

Nearly 40 per cent of deaths due to alcohol abuse occur before the age of 50, according to the report.

This suggests that the vast majority of research into the possible hazards of alcohol will not take into account these deaths and may underestimate the actual dangers.

The authors dipped into data from the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact Application held by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for re-investigation. According to the CDC, this report “provides national and state estimates of the health impacts related to alcohol, including deaths and years of possible loss of life.”

The difference of age

The analysis showed that the level of an individual’s alcohol-related risk was heavily influenced by age.

In total, 35.8 percent of alcohol-related deaths occurred in people aged 20–49. When looking at deaths that were prevented by alcohol consumption, the scientists found only 4.5 percent in this age group.

When they looked at individuals aged 65 or over, it was a different story: Although a similar 35 percent of alcohol-related deaths occurred in this group, the authors found a huge 80 percent of the deaths prevented by alcohol in this demographic.

This sharp disparity between age groups was also shown by the researchers as they looked at the number of possible years lost to alcohol.

They found that among those aged 20–49 there was 58.4 percent of the total number of years missing. This age group, however, accounted for just 14.5 per cent of life years saved by smoking.

In comparison, the over-65 category accounted for 15 percent of life lost total years, but saved 50 percent of life years.

The authors conclude that younger people “are more likely to die from alcohol abuse than they die from lack of drinking,” but the health benefits of moderate drinking are more likely to be felt by older people.

Although the results are not shocking, they give us a more comprehensive understanding of the health effects of alcohol: moderate drinking may favor individuals in a certain age group, but heavy drinking is detrimental to all.

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