Heavy drinkers are at major risk of muscle loss later in life

Did you know that heavy ­drinkers could be putting themselves at risk of muscle loss and frailty in later life?

A significant study from the University of East Anglia shows, with statistical modelling, that people with the lowest amount of muscle were drinking 10 units or more a day – about a bottle of wine. That’s quite a habit.

“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,” says Professor Ailsa Welch of UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

Because larger people have more muscle mass, the research team scaled for body size. And they took into account factors such as protein consumption and physical activity.

The team say their findings, mainly in people in their 50s and 60s, suggests another reason to cut back on booze.

Prof Welch says: “Losing muscle as we age leads to problems with weakness and frailty in later life. Alcohol intake is a major modifiable risk factor for many diseases, so we wanted to find out more about the relationship between drinking and muscle health as we age.”

The team studied data from nearly 200,000 people aged between 37 and 73 years from the UK Biobank. This is a database of anonymous lifestyle and health information from half a million people in the UK.

Dr Jane Skinner, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, says: “We studied how much alcohol people were drinking and compared it with how much muscle they had, according to their body size.

“We also took into account things like how much protein they consumed, their levels of physical activity and other factors that could make a difference to how much muscle they might have.

“We found that those who drank a lot of alcohol had a lower amount of skeletal muscle compared to people who drank less, after we took into account their body sizes and other factors.

“We saw that it really became a problem when people were drinking 10 or more units a day – which is the equivalent of about a bottle of wine or four or five pints.

Prof Welch added: “This study shows that alcohol may have harmful effects on muscle mass at higher levels of consumption.”