Sipping two or three glasses of wine, beer or cocktails per day helped older adults live longer than teetotalers in a study that confirmed...

Sipping two or three glasses of wine, beer or cocktails per day helped older adults live longer than teetotalers in a study that confirmed the health benefits of moderate drinking.

A study of 1,824 adults ages 55 to 65 found that moderate and heavy drinkers were less likely to die than abstainers over a 20-year span, according to researchers at the University of Texas in Austin and Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Moderate drinkers were defined as those who have one to fewer than three drinks daily, with heavy drinkers having three or more alcoholic beverages a day, according to the study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The results disputed a common criticism of previous similar findings about drinking and longevity that results were skewed because researchers included former problem drinkers with poor health in the abstainers’ group. The Texas and Stanford authors found that, even after excluding results from past problem drinkers and people with poor health status such as obesity, moderate drinkers still lived longer than nondrinkers, they said.

“Importantly, any health-protective effects of alcohol appear to be limited to regular moderate drinking,” wrote the study authors, led by Charles Holahan, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. “Heavy episodic drinking — even when average consumption remains moderate — is associated with increased cardiovascular risk.”

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Overall, older adults who didn’t drink at all had a 49 percent greater risk of dying during the 20 years of the study than those who drank moderately, the researchers found. Heavy drinkers had a 42 percent increased risk of dying compared with moderate drinkers, the study found.

The results also showed moderate drinkers lived longer than light drinkers, defined as those drinking less than one drink per day.

One or two drinks may be beneficial, though “older persons drinking alcohol should remember that consuming more than two drinks a day exceeds recommended alcohol consumption guidelines,” and may lead to more falls, a greater risk of alcohol abuse and side effects from medications, Holahan said in a statement.

The study is published online and will be in the print edition of the journal’s November issue. The research was funded by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Department of Veterans Affairs.