It’s not unusual to enjoy a drink once in a while, particularly among older populations. While excessive or even moderate drinking can cause adverse reactions for health, some studies suggest that a low-level of alcohol can actually be beneficial for the brain.
The key term here is “low-level.” Prolonged consumption of alcohol is known to have severe consequences for the central nervous system and in older adults, alcohol consumption can trigger adverse reactions with common medications. It can also impact coordination, judgement and reaction time, increasing the risk of a fall and therefore injury in elderly populations.
The list of potential problems related to alcohol use is lengthy and well documented, however, a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that just a little alcohol may not be such a bad thing.
The research is focused on the glymphatic system, which controls the brain’s cleaning process. This occurs when cerebral spinal fluid is pumped into brain tissue, cleaning out waste such as proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
While high levels of alcohol cause inflammation, subjects that were exposed to the equivalent of 2 ½ drinks per day were found to have less inflammation in the brain. Spinal fluid moved through the brain easier and perhaps equally as important, cognitive and motor functions were not significantly affected.
A Danish study looked alcohol and its effect on diabetes, particularly the impact of wine consumption. The results indicate that alcohol drinking frequency is associated with risk of diabetes. Researchers concluded that light to moderate drinking over the course of three or four days per week is associated with the lowest risk of diabetes.
While this might sound like a reason to feel guilt free about taking your next drink, the reality is that a large number of drinkers do not adhere to the prescribed amounts and that is more often than not detrimental to your health. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that alcohol is a contributing factor in more than 200 health conditions and is involved in more than three million deaths each year.
For seniors, alcohol use can worsen depression, increase cancer risks, damage the liver and intensify certain conditions such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, ulcers, memory loss and mood disorders. The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults over the age of 65 not exceed more than three drinks in a given day and in general, should not drink more than seven drinks per week. So while you may want to consider a glass of wine here and there for your health, you’ll want to be careful not to push it too far.
The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults over the age of 65 not exceed more than three drinks in a given day.Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020
Understanding Your Tolerance with Age
When you’re young, tolerance levels can allow for the consumption of an unhealthy amount of alcohol without feeling the impacts as severely. But as we age, two things happen that typically cause our tolerance level drops.
The first has to do with the fact that older adults process alcohol much slower than those in their youth and have less water in the bodies due to a loss of muscle mass. The result is that after a few drinks, older adults have a much higher percentage of alcohol in their system than their younger counterparts consuming the same amount of alcohol. This is also why older adults can begin to feel the effects of alcohol more severely without altering their usual drinking routine.
The second reason older adults commonly experience a drop in tolerance is due to exposure to prescription medications. How those medications interact with alcohol can severely impact the sensation of being intoxicated.