Is It Time for Age-Specific Guidelines on Alcohol?

Chances are, you’ve heard a glass or two of wine a day is good for your heart and may help you live longer. But what exactly is the recommended intake of alcohol for people over 65? The short answer: it may be a lot less than previously thought.

A series of wine glasses and unopened wine bottles

We’re regularly reminded to enjoy alcohol in moderation. This is usually defined as 1-2 drinks a day for women and 2-4 drinks a day for men.

This limit is derived from evidence that shows those who drink more or less than those amounts have a somewhat shorter lifespan. However, some little-known research is calling into question the standard definition of moderation, the effects of alcohol and their relevance to age.

Analysis of data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggests that for people over 65, the sweet spot in terms of alcohol consumption may be much lower than the recommended amounts, as little as 3-4 drinks per week.

Although most guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption offer separate recommendations for men and women, they don’t usually distinguish between older and younger adults. In light of a few facts, however, this may be beginning to change.

Older adults are much more likely to take medications that interact with alcohol, and are more likely to have adverse reactions from combining alcohol and medication. Also, according to the National Institutes of Health, aging slows the body’s ability to break down alcohol, so alcohol remains in the bloodstream longer, increasing the risk of harmful interactions with prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

Authorities in the US and Canada have not yet issued age-specific guidelines on drinking alcohol, such as those that exist for children and pregnant women, but with physicians writing 14 billion prescriptions annually, guidelines may not be far off.

About the Writer

Monica Reinagel

Monica is a board-certified, licensed nutritionist and professionally trained chef. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, CBS News and Morning Edition, as well as leading newspapers, magazines and websites. She’s the author of six books, including Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet, and creator of the Nutrition Diva podcast (one of iTunes’ most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts).

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