(CBS) Alcoholic beverages seem to be the toast of longevity researchers.
A new study suggests that middle-aged women who drink alcohol regularly are more likely than occasional drinkers or nondrinkers to enjoy "successful aging." That's the researchers' term for being free of heart disease and other major chronic diseases and having no major mental or physical impairment.
The authors of the study tracked the health and drinking habits of almost 14,000 women who had enrolled in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study at midlife (average age 58) and again at about age 70. They found that women who had five to seven drinks a week were 20 percent more likely to age successfully than nondrinkers.
Women who consumed alcohol "at regular patterns throughout the week, rather than on a single occasion, had somewhat better odds of successful ageing," the study authors concluded.
Would drinking more than that have been even more beneficial? No such luck. It's long been known that heavy drinking raises the risk for liver disease, cancer, and other potentially deadly illnesses, as well as for depression, relationship problems, and car accidents.
The authors of the study - published in the journal PLoS medicine - pointed out that their findings didn't prove that regular alcohol consumption was responsible for the increased likelihood of successful aging among these mostly white women. In addition, they said that their findings might not apply to men or to women of other ethnic groups.
But the findings do seem to lend additional support to the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, which say that having up to one drink a day for women and two a day for men may bring health benefits.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more on women and alcohol.