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Heavy drinkers at risk of muscle loss, new study finds

By Lee Cleveland - May 21, 2023

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of East Anglia reveals that heavy drinkers may be putting themselves at risk of muscle loss and frailty later in life.

The study, published recently, utilized statistical modeling to demonstrate that individuals with the lowest amount of muscle mass were consuming 10 units of alcohol or more per day, which is approximately equivalent to a bottle of wine.

To account for variations in body size, the research team adjusted the data accordingly. Factors such as protein consumption and physical activity were also taken into consideration during the analysis.

The findings of the study, primarily focused on people in their 50s and 60s, provide further evidence supporting the importance of reducing alcohol intake.

Prof Ailsa Welch from UEA’s Norwich Medical School emphasized the significance of maintaining muscle mass as we age, as its decline can lead to weakness and frailty in later life.

Alcohol consumption is a major modifiable risk factor for numerous diseases, thus prompting researchers to investigate the relationship between drinking habits and muscle health in the aging population.

The team examined data from the UK Biobank, a comprehensive database containing anonymized lifestyle and health information from half a million individuals in the UK. The study involved analyzing data from nearly 200,000 participants aged between 37 and 73 years.

Dr. Jane Skinner, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, explained that the study compared alcohol consumption levels with the amount of muscle mass individuals possessed, taking into account their body size and other influencing factors such as protein intake and physical activity levels.

The study primarily focused on individuals in their 50s and 60s, and the results revealed that those who consumed high amounts of alcohol had lower skeletal muscle mass compared to individuals who consumed less alcohol, even after adjusting for body size and other relevant factors.

The study highlighted that the detrimental effects on muscle mass became particularly apparent when individuals consumed 10 or more units of alcohol per day, equivalent to about a bottle of wine or four to five pints of beer. However, it should be noted that the study only establishes a correlation between alcohol consumption and muscle mass since the measurements were taken at the same time, and a causal link cannot be definitively established.

Prof Welch emphasized that the study provides evidence that high levels of alcohol consumption may have harmful effects on muscle mass. Given that muscle loss with age contributes to weakness and frailty, this study serves as another reminder to avoid consuming excessive amounts of alcohol regularly, especially during middle and early older age.


Tags: health