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Heavy Drinking Into Old Age Ups Health Risks: Study

TUESDAY, April 7, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term heavy drinking may lead to significant weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke in older adults, British researchers warn.

They analyzed data from more than 4,800 U.K. civil servants who were 34 to 56 years old when the study began in the mid-1980s. Three-quarters were men.

Heavy drinking -- defined as three or four drinks, four or more times a week -- over a lifetime was linked to numerous health issues. They included higher blood pressure, poorer liver function, increased stroke risk, and a larger waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) in later life. (BMI is an estimate of body fat based on weight and height.)

And that link remained even if the person stopped drinking heavily before age 50.

But researchers at University College London in the U.K. noted that overall health stands to benefit when people stop drinking heavily at any point in life.

Here are key findings from the study, which was published recently in the journal Addiction:

  • Disease risk: Compared with people who were never heavy drinkers, current heavy drinkers had triple the risk of stroke. Heavy drinkers who stopped at age 50 or older had about twice the risk of premature death from causes not related to heart disease.

  • Belly fat: Compared with people who were never heavy drinkers, those who stopped doing so by age 50 had a half-inch larger waist circumference on average. Those who cut back later had waists that averaged 0.7 inch larger; current heavy drinkers, an inch larger; and consistent heavy drinkers, 1.5 inches larger, respectively. A larger waist is linked to increased stroke risk.

"This suggests that the longer adults engage in heavy drinking the larger their waistline in older age. That is why it is beneficial, along with other health benefits, that adults reduce heavy drinking earlier rather than later," said study first author Linda Ng Fat, of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care.

"Previous studies have focused on single snapshots of consumption, which has the potential to mask the cumulative effects of drinking. This study raises awareness of the effect of alcohol consumption over the life-course," she added in a university news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism outlines the health effects of alcohol.

SOURCE: University College London, news release, March 31, 2020

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