Heavy Drinking May Lead to Muscle Loss

Here's one more reason to give up drinking: a new study finds that middle-aged and older people who consume excessive amounts of alcohol may be at risk of muscle loss.

Heavy drinking has been long associated with various long-term risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease, certain cancers, and weakening of the immune system.

The researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) looked at how alcohol consumption affects our muscles. They used the UK Biobank data from nearly 200,000 people aged between 37 and 73 years, most of whom were in their 50s and 60s.

Because larger people have more muscle mass, the researchers scaled for body size. They also took into account factors such as protein consumption and physical activity.

Statistical modeling showed that measures of skeletal muscle mass, appendicular lean mass/body mass index (ALM/BMI), and fat-free mass as a percentage of body weight (FFM%) declined consistently and substantially with higher levels of alcohol consumption in both men and women.

The research published in Calcified Tissue International found that people with the lowest amount of muscle were found to be drinking 10 units or more a day, which equals a bottle of wine.

"This study shows that alcohol may have harmful effects on muscle mass at higher levels of consumption. We know that losing muscle as we age leads to problems with weakness and frailty, so this suggests another reason to avoid drinking high amounts of alcohol routinely in middle and early older age," the study’s author Professor Ailsa Welch from UEA’s Norwich Medical School said in a press release.

Grip strength, on the other hand, increased with alcohol consumption regardless of how much people drank. Such findings are consistent with an earlier study that associated moderate alcohol intake with modestly better physical performance in older men.

When the UEA researchers conducted a longitudinal analysis of 12,298 of these participants, they did not find an association between alcohol consumption and muscle mass and strength after a median follow-up of four years.

The study, however, has limitations. Alcohol intake might have been under-reported, and the analysis included only white participants.

While the research suggests that excessive alcohol consumption may have detrimental effects on muscle mass, it does not establish a causal link.

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