“Moderate amounts of alcohol may offer some protection against heart disease, especially for women who have gone through the menopause, but it’s very important not to go overboard, ” said Natasha Stewart of the British Heart Foundation
Women who enjoy an alcoholic drink in the evening tend to be healthier as they move into old age, research shows.
This nightcap could be a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a single measure of spirit, PLoS Medicine journal reports.
A study of 14,000 women concluded that those who drink in moderation were far more likely to reach 70 in good health than heavier drinkers or abstainers.
Spreading consumption over the week is better than saving it for the weekend, the researchers say.
Women who drank little and often fared better than occasional drinkers.
Compared with non-drinkers, women in their mid-50s who drank 15-30g of alcohol (one to two drinks) a day had a 28% greater likelihood of achieving what the US researchers call “successful ageing”, meaning good general health free of conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease in their 70s and beyond.
And women who drank on 5-7 days of the week had almost double the chance of good overall health in old age compared with complete abstainers.
Experts are not sure whether it is the alcohol itself that is conferring the benefit or whether it simply goes hand in hand with other things in the lives of the women that makes them healthier.
The Harvard School of Public Health researchers said they tried to control for factors like smoking that might have affected the results.
Other studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption – no more than the recommended two to three units a day for women in the UK – is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and some other health conditions.
And research has shown alcohol can have a positive impact in the body, reducing insulin resistance, inflammation, high cholesterol and other harmful processes.
However, drinking has been linked to other conditions, such as breast cancer.
Experts welcomed the findings, saying they supported current recommendations concerning alcohol limits.
Natasha Stewart of the British Heart Foundation said: “Moderate amounts of alcohol may offer some protection against heart disease, especially for women who have gone through the menopause, but it’s very important not to go overboard.
“Drinking too much doesn’t offer any heart health protection at all and may actually lead to heart muscle damage, stroke and high blood pressure. And if you don’t already drink alcohol, there is certainly no need to start now.
“Clearly there are much better ways to look after your heart than drinking alcohol, like eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting active and by not smoking.” (Michelle Roberts/BBC News)