While it has been observed that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of functional decline, researchers say this association might be linked to life-style related variables.
The study conducted over 3,000 adults aged 70-79 showed that the apparent association between light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of functional decline over time did not hold up after adjustments were made for characteristics related to lifestyle, in particular physical activity, body weight, education, and income.
The researchers suggest that life-style related characteristics might be the real determinant of the reported beneficial effects of alcohol and functional decline.
"In recent years the relationship between alcohol intake and health outcomes has gained growing attention, but while there is now considerable consensus that consuming alcohol at moderate levels has a specific beneficial effect on the risk of cardiovascular disease, the benefit of alcohol intake on other health-related outcomes is less convincing," said study author Dr Cinzia Maraldi, of the University of Ferrara, Italy.
"We wanted to evaluate this question over a long-term follow-up and with a prospective design, which most previous studies have not used," Maraldi added.
Although the study showed that participants consuming moderate levels of alcohol had the lowest incidence of mobility limitation and disability, but after adjusting for life-style related variables substantially reduced the strength of the associations.
Adjustment for diseases and health status indicators did not affect the strength of the associations, which led the authors to conclude that life-style is the most important factor in confounding this relationship.
"Globally taken, these results suggest that the reported protective effect of moderate alcohol intake on physical performance may be only apparent, because life-style related characteristics seem to be the real determinant of the reported association, suggesting caution in attributing a direct benefit of moderate alcohol intake on functional ability," said Maraldi.
"This assumes particular relevance given the risk of alcohol-dependence and the health hazards associated with excessive alcohol consumption.
"From this point of view, in our opinion life-style recommendations for the prevention of disability should be based on interventions proven to be safe and effective, such as weight control and physical exercise," Maraldi added.
The study is publishing in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society,