Moderate drinkers are more likely to report above-average health than lifetime abstainers, light drinkers and heavy drinkers, a new study reveals.
“Our results suggest that a moderate amount of drinking is not necessarily dangerous for most people and may actually be health-enhancing,” said study coauthor Michael French, Ph.D.
However, it is unclear whether moderate drinking leads to better health or whether moderate drinkers simply lead healthier lifestyles, he said.
This finding confirmed much of the clinical evidence on this topic. However, previous research has focused on objective health indicators such as cardiovascular disease, injuries and mortality. “We wanted to see if moderate drinkers are actually feeling better by their own assessment,” said French, professor of health economics at the University of Miami.
The study appears in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.
The study used 2002 data from a representative survey of U.S. households, representing more than 31,000 adults. The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the survey for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Participants answered questions about alcohol consumption, health behaviors and chronic health conditions. Researchers defined moderate drinking as four to 14 drinks weekly for men and four to seven drinks weekly for women.
Compared with lifetime abstainers and former light drinkers, moderate-drinking men were 1.27 times more likely to report above-average health. Women who were moderate drinkers were more than twice as likely to report above-average health as abstainers were.
Arthur Klatsky, M.D., a researcher and cardiology consultant at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, Calif., suggests that the study’s results for moderate drinkers probably have something to do with healthy lifestyles. “By and large, the same people that work out and eat healthy are probably more likely to be moderate drinkers instead of heavier drinkers,” he said.
One major health benefit of moderate drinking is the ability to ward off cardiovascular disease, particularly hardening of the arteries and stroke caused by blockages in blood vessels, Klatsky added.
Both French and Klatsky warn that heavy drinking contributes to poor health. “Heavy drinking by everybody’s reckoning is bad business for health and social outcomes,” Klatsky said.