A new Harvard University report concludes that women who regularly consume modest amounts of alcohol are more likely than teetotalers to be in good physical and mental health in middle age. The report is based on a study that has been tracking 14,000 women since 1976.
What, exactly, is the salubrious effect of alcohol? The lead author of the study said, “It’s not clear exactly how alcohol benefits health, but it may have something to do with how alcohol reduces inflammation in the body.” Experiments have shown that moderate alcohol intake “can reduce inflammation, promote healthy cholesterol levels, improve insulin resistance, and help blood vessels function properly…. Those mechanisms underlie a lot of chronic diseases and conditions.”
Large studies that are based on responses to questionnaires have inherent limitations. While clinical trials can measure the effect of one drug by comparing it to the use of a placebo, this study must deal with many variables that affect long-term health, and there can be thorny the-chicken-or-the-egg issues. The researchers took into account many of them, including diet, smoking, educational attainment, and family history of disease. Still, said one gerontologist, “we really can’t tease out what aspect is good for you.”
One variable not mentioned in the report is often correlated with drinking: sex. Sex is not only good exercise (well, in my case, not always). It also causes the release of chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins, which reduce blood pressure and promote psychological well-being–which in itself an important factor in long-term health.
But again, which comes first? Are women who drink moderately in better overall health, and thus more receptive to their carnal instincts? Or are women who like sex also more devoted to other basic pleasures, such as drinking?
The only medically proven solution is to do both. While you drink moderately, you are much better off like woman A, above, than women B, below.