May 10, 2001
Younger than 55? Alcohol risks outweigh benefits
NEW YORK, May 10 (Reuters Health) - While moderate alcohol consumption offers considerable protection from heart disease, its benefits may not extend to individuals younger than 55 years old, study findings suggest.
Alcohol can bring its share of benefits as well as harm, argue Annie Britton and Klim McPherson from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, UK. And its pluses may outweigh its minuses only for certain groups.
In research published in the June issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the investigators used alcohol consumption and death certificate data to determine whether death rates would be higher or lower if no one drank alcohol.
Overall, the authors report, more deaths were "prevented" than were "caused" by alcohol consumption. There were about 2.8% fewer deaths among men and 0.9% fewer deaths among women than would be expected if none of the population drank alcohol.
The benefits did not apply equally to all age groups, however. According to the results, the balance does not start to favor alcohol consumption until age 55 in men and 65 in women.
In younger age groups, alcohol consumption is more likely to cause death through traffic accidents, liver disease, and suicide than to prevent death through its heart protective effects, the report indicates. The researchers estimate that alcohol is responsible for 75,000 years of lost life in both men and women up to age 65, mostly in men under age 44.
After age 55 and 65, alcohol can still kill people by increasing the risk of breast cancer, liver disease and stroke. However, it helps prevent deaths due to heart disease, which outnumber those due to other problems.
"From this initial overall study of alcohol attributable [death] in England and Wales," Britton and McPherson conclude, "only for certain subgroups of the population, namely men aged over 55 years and women over 65 years, is there a net favorable [death] outcome from current consumption levels."
These results, the authors suggest, call for a staged drinking policy that varies according to age, perhaps with no alcohol consumption during young adult years rising to moderate consumption towards the end of middle age.
SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2001;55:383-388.