MORE BENEFITS to MODERATE DRINKING
It’s a modern day version of the chicken and the egg question: do moderate drinkers live longer because they are a healthier demographic in general or does light consumption actually add to longevity? A new study has found that moderate drinkers are wealthier, more educated and less likely to be disabled than teetotalers. These findings explain some, but not all, of the associations between moderate alcohol consumption and longer life. Dr. Sei J. Lee of San Francisco VA Medical Center and colleagues found that having one drink a day halved a person’s risk of dying over the next four years. After accounting for several factors that could influence alcohol use and mortality, the effect was weakened, but moderate drinkers were still 28% less likely to die than non-drinkers. While the first study to show that moderate drinkers live longer than either teetotalers or heavy drinkers was published back in 1923, there’s still not complete agreement on whether moderate drinkers are simply healthier overall than non-drinkers, or if alcohol itself used in moderation does benefit health.
The researchers investigated the role of two risk factors associated with mortality that, to their knowledge, have not been studied together: functional disability and socioeconomic status (SES). They looked at 12,519 men and women, aged 55 and older, enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. During four years of follow-up, 14% of the non-drinkers died, compared to 7% of moderate drinkers and 12% of people who consumed three or more drinks daily. According to the researchers, people who had a drink a day had a significantly higher socioeconomic status than non-drinkers, as measured by income, wealth and years of education. For example, 37% of drinkers had a college education, compared to 14% of non-drinkers, and 52% of drinkers had $3OO,OOO in assets, while 21% of non-drinkers did. Non-drinkers also were more likely to have functional disabilities, such as difficulties in completing self-care activities like getting dressed, as well as problems with more complex activities such as making meals or managing their finances. Forty-one percent of non-drinkers had trouble walking for several blocks, compared to 18% of moderate drinkers.
After the researchers adjusted for traditional risk factors such as illness, smoking and obesity, the moderate drinkers were still 43% less likely to die during follow up. Once the researchers adjusted for SES and disability, the lower death risk for moderate drinkers compared to non-drinkers shrank to 28%. “The results significantly strengthen the evidence that moderate drinking leads to lower rates of overall mortality,” the researchers wrote. But, they added, moderate drinkers could have yet more beneficial characteristics not examined in the study, and it’s possible “that adjustment for these characteristics could fully explain the alcohol-mortality relationship.” A report of the study was published in the journal of the american geriatrics society.