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Alcohol Drinking Gets a Couple of Bad Reviews and Seniors Should Know Limits

Many U.S. senior citizens consume low to moderate amounts of alcohol on a regular basis but need to be aware of special warnings for seniors by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

July 10, 2014 – For a while now alcohol has had a good run with research studies declaring it a safe or even beneficial drink when it comes to major health threats like heart problems and cancer. Two reports this week seem to be pointing in the opposite direction. One says even light-to-moderate drinkers can lower their risk of heart disease, their body mass index and their blood pressure by cutting back on alcohol consumption. And, a doctors’ organization this week put alcohol on its list of things to avoid to reduce your cancer risk.

Reducing alcohol consumption lowers heart risk, blood pressure and body mass index

The latest alcohol findings by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and others call into question previous studies which suggest that consuming light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol – 0.6 to 0.8 fluid ounces per day - may have a protective effect on cardiovascular health. The new multi-center study is published in The BMJ.

The researchers reviewed evidence from more than 50 studies that linked drinking habits and cardiovascular health for over 260,000 people.

They found that individuals who carry a specific gene which typically leads to lower alcohol consumption over time have, on average, superior cardiovascular health records. Specifically, the results show that individuals who consume 17 percent less alcohol per week have on average a 10 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease, lower blood pressure and a lower Body Mass Index.

“These new results are critically important to our understanding of how alcohol affects heart disease. Contrary to what earlier reports have shown, it now appears that any exposure to alcohol has a negative impact upon heart health,” says co-lead author Michael Holmes, MD, PhD, research assistant professor in the department of Transplant Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“For some time, observational studies have suggested that only heavy drinking was detrimental to cardiovascular health, and that light consumption may actually be beneficial. This has led some people to drink moderately based on the belief that it would lower their risk of heart disease.

 

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 However, what we’re seeing with this new study, which uses an investigative approach similar to a randomized clinical trial, is that reduced consumption of alcohol, even for light-to-moderate drinkers, may lead to improved cardiovascular health.”

In the new study, researchers examined the cardiovascular health of individuals who carry a genetic variant of the ‘alcohol dehydrogenase 1B’ gene, which is known to breakdown alcohol at a quicker pace. This rapid breakdown causes unpleasant symptoms including nausea and facial flushing, and has been found to lead to lower levels of alcohol consumption over time.

By using this genetic marker as an indicator of lower alcohol consumption, the research team was able to identify links between these individuals and improved cardiovascular health.

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council, and was an international collaboration that included 155 investigators from the UK, continental Europe, North America, and Australia.

Alcohol a danger for cancer, too

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine last week released six dietary guidelines for cancer preventing and one of the six says that one drink per week increases risk of mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancers by 24 percent.

Two to three drinks per day increase risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

The report notes that The alcohol itself (rather than additives) appears to be the cause of cancer, and all types of alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, and spirits) are problematic. 

Their report appeared in the June 30 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Alcohol consumption a special problem for senior citizens

 “For many people, moderate drinking is probably safe,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “It may even have health benefits, including reducing your risk of certain heart problems. For most women and for most people over 65, moderate drinking is no more than three drinks a day or seven drinks per week. For men under 65, it is no more than four drinks a day or 14 drinks per week.

“Some people should not drink at all, including alcoholics, children, pregnant women, people taking certain medicines, and people with certain medical conditions. If you have questions about whether it is safe for you to drink, speak with your health care provider.

“Anything more than moderate drinking can be risky. Heavy drinking can lead to alcoholism and alcohol abuse, as well as injuries, liver disease, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems. It can also cause problems at home, at work, and with friends.”

NIAAA on older adults -

There are special considerations facing older adults who drink, including:

Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol
Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol.  Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger.  This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking.

Increased Health Problems
Certain health problems are common in older adults. Heavy drinking can make these problems worse, including:
   • Diabetes
   • High blood pressure
   • Congestive heart failure
   • Liver problems
   • Osteoporosis
   • Memory problems
   • Mood disorders

Bad Interactions with Medications
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol.  Medications that can interact badly with alcohol include:
   • Aspirin
   • Acetaminophen
   • Cold and allergy medicine
   • Cough syrup
   • Sleeping pills
   • Pain medication
   • Anxiety or depression medicine

Drinking Guidelines for Older Adults
Adults over age 65 who are healthy and do not take medications should not have more than:

   • 3 drinks on a given day

   • 7 drinks in a week

Drinking more than these amounts puts people at risk of serious alcohol problems.

If you have a health problem or take certain medications, you may need to drink less or not at all.

>> More at MedlinePlus

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