Drinking heavily while younger puts you at risk for muscle loss and frailty later in life, new research suggests.
These findings are another reason to cut back on the booze, according to the research team from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the United Kingdom.
"Losing muscle as we age leads to problems with weakness and frailty in later life," said professor Ailsa Welch from UEA's Norwich Medical School.
"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," she said in a university news release.
Using data from the UK Biobank for nearly 200,000 people aged 37 to 73, the investigators found that those with the lowest amount of muscle in the study were drinking the equivalent of about a bottle of wine daily.
The researchers also scaled for body size because larger people have more muscle mass. They factored in protein consumption and physical activity.
"Most of the people were in their 50s and 60s. 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," said Jane Skinner, also of UEA's Norwich Medical School.
"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 of beer, Skinner explained.
Muscle mass and alcohol consumption were measured in people at the same time so researchers can't be certain of a causal link.
Still, "this study shows that alcohol may have harmful effects on muscle mass at higher levels of consumption," Welch said.
"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," she added.
The study findings were published May 24 in Calcified Tissue International.