PhotoIn recent years there has been plenty of research suggesting that there are health benefits that come with moderate alcohol consumption. Here's a study suggesting older consumers, in particular, should avoid it – or at least limit their consumption.

Brenda J. Curtis, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Denver, says as people age their immune system becomes less functional and infections are more severe and harder to cure.

Drinking alcohol, she says, damages the immune system and organs. The effects can be worsened by some prescription and over-the-counter medications, which seniors tend to take. As a result, seniors often are vulnerable to infections like pneumonia much more than their younger peers.

“Our laboratory has been studying inflammatory and immune responses in the aged for well over a decade,” said Curtis. “We know that even healthy elderly individuals have an elevated basal inflammatory state, known as ‘inflamm-aging.’”

It's hard enough for the body to recover from inflammation when you are old, she says. Adding alcohol just compounds the problem.

“Our research suggests that alcohol intoxication perturbs the immune system of the aged both throughout the body and in local regions, like the lung,” said fellow researcher Elizabeth J. Kovacs. “Aged individuals also have decreased lung function and cough strength, which further escalates the risk for developing pneumonia.”

Seniors are drinking more

The research may take on added significance in light of recent research which shows that alcohol consumption has increased among the older population. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) produced the video below to highlight the rise in older Americans with alcohol dependency.

NIH warns that drinking too much alcohol can make some existing health problems worse, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, and memory problems.

Health officials in New York call alcohol abuse among the elderly “a hidden epidemic.” The New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse reports that about 10% of the population abuses alcohol, but that as many as 17% of Americans over 65 have an alcohol problem.

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