Researchers at the University of Newcastle have found that women who never drink alcohol are in poorer health than those who have up to two drinks a day.
However drinking three or more drinks a day tips the health scales the other way.
The research is part of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, a twenty-year study which began in 1996 and examines the health of 40,000 Australian women.
Low risk alcohol consumption is considered to be up to two drinks per day. Three or more per day is considered risky for women’s health in the long term and five or more drinks in one sitting is risky for women’s health in the short term.
Women are more susceptible to the impact of alcohol than men, because women generally have smaller bodies, smaller livers and a higher proportion of fat in their bodies.
The study found that non-drinkers were more likely to be non-smokers and from a non-English speaking background and among younger women, to be pregnant or mothers.
Those who drank up to two drinks a day had more education, exercised more often and had better self-rated health than non-drinkers.
At the other end of the scale those who drank three or more drinks a day tended to be smokers, had poorer mental health and among younger women, were more likely to have used illicit drugs.
University of Newcastle researcher Dr Anne Young says the most consistent and largest association found in the study was between drinking and smoking.
"We found women who smoked were more likely to be risky drinkers across all age groups."
"Young women who were risky drinkers tended to reduce their alcohol consumption when they went into relationships or became mothers," said Dr Young.
"There was no evidence to suggest there should be different guidelines for alcohol consumption for older women. In fact the study found that women over 70 who drank up to two drinks a day had less risk of dying than those who never drank or rarely drank alcohol."
The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and is run jointly by the University of Newcastle and the University of Queensland.
Source: University Of Newcastle, March 2005