Impact of alcohol on aging
The impact of alcohol on aging is multifaceted. Evidence shows that alcoholism or chronic alcohol consumption can cause both accelerated (or premature) aging – in which symptoms of aging appear earlier than normal – and exaggerated aging, in which the symptoms appear at the appropriate time but in a more exaggerated form. The effects of alcohol abuse/misuse on the aging process include hypertension, cardiac dysrhythmia, cancers, gastrointestinal disorders, neurocognitive deficits, bone loss, and emotional disturbances especially depression. On the other hand, research also shows that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease.
Alcohol is a potent neurotoxin. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has found, "Alcoholism may accelerate normal aging or cause premature aging of the brain." Another report by the same agency found, "Chronic alcohol consumption, as well as chronic glucocorticoid exposure, can result in premature and/or exaggerated aging." Specifically, alcohol activates the HPA axis, causing glucocorticoid secretion and thus elevating levels of stress hormones in the body. Chronic exposure to these hormones results in an acceleration of the aging process, which is associated with "gradual, but often dramatic, changes over time in almost every physiological system in the human body. Combined, these changes result in decreased efficiency and resiliency of physiological function." Chronic stress and chronic heavy alcohol use cause a similar premature aging effect, including nerve cell degeneration in the hippocampus.
According to the National Institutes of Health, researchers now understand that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can protect the hearts of some people from the risks of coronary artery disease.
A study published in August 2010 in the journal, “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research,” followed 1,824 participants between the ages of 55 and 65 and found that even after adjusting for all covariates, abstainers and heavy drinkers continued to show increased mortality risks of 51 and 45%, respectively, compared to moderate drinkers. A followup study lists several cautions in interpreting the findings. For example, the results do not address nor endorse initiation of drinking among nondrinkers, and persons who have medical conditions which would be worsened by alcohol consumption should not drink alcohol.
- Alcohol, Aging, and the Stress Response, RL Spencer and KE Hutchison, Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1999 ...alcohol-related overactivity of the HPA axis and the resulting elevated cortisol levels may contribute to premature or exaggerated aging in many people with a long history of alcohol abuse.
- Stevenson JS (2005). "Alcohol use, misuse, abuse, and dependence in later adulthood". Annu Rev Nurs Res 23: 245–80. PMID 16350768.
- National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Understanding the impact of alcohol on human health and well-being.”
- Thomas P. Beresford, Edith Lisansky Gomberg, Edith S. Gomberg. Alcohol and Aging. p. 85.
- Alcohol and Aging - Alcohol Alert No. 40-1998
- “Beyond Hangovers: understanding alcohol’s impact on your health,” NIH Publication No. 10–7604, revised May 2011
- Charles J. Holahan, Kathleen K. Schutte, Penny L. Brennan, Carole K. Holahan, Bernice S. Moos, Rudolf H. Moos, “Late-Life Alcohol Consumption and 20-Year Mortality,” DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01286.x
- Holahan, Charles; Kathleen K. Schutte; Penny L. Brennan; Rebecca J. North; Carole K. Holahan; Bernice S. Moos; Rudolf H. Moos (January 2012). "Wine Consumption and 20-Year Mortality Among Late-Life Moderate Drinkers". J Stud Alcohol Drugs 73 (1): 80–88.