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10.2010

Massachusetts Beverage Business

archivedHealth

DRINK FOR LONGEVITY!

Raise a glass to long life! In fact, raise two; it just may help you live longer. For years, many studies have indicated that those who don’t drink tend to die sooner than those who do imbibe. This is naturally often refuted by various groups with one argument saying that studies such as these often include former heavy drinkers who have already done damage to their bodies from years of alcohol abuse. But a new paper in the journal alcoholism: clinical and experimental research suggests that abstaining from alcohol does actually tend to increase one’s risk of dying even when former drinkers are excluded. In fact, abstainers’ mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers. Moderate drinking, one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (particularly red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which is actually relevant because people who are isolated don’t have as many people around them who might notice health problems. What’s unclear is why abstaining might lead to a shorter life. It’s true that those who don’t drink tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes, since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status tend to have more life stressors. But even after controlling for the variables – socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, and so on – the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 2O-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.
Using data gathered from a larger study of late-life patterns of drinking, the researchers followed 1824 older adults (1142 men, 682 women) between the ages of 55 and 65 who were former or current drinkers for 2O years. The information collected included: daily alcohol consumption, socio-demographic factors, former problem-drinking status, health factors, and social behavioral factors. Findings show a substantial part of the survival effect for moderate drinking among older adults is explained by confounding factors associated with alcohol abstention. Compared to moderate drinkers, abstainers in the study sample included many former problem drinkers and individuals with more health problems and health risk factors (such as lower physical activity and more cigarette smoking). The researchers also found those who drank moderately were more likely to live longer across a 2O-year follow-up than those who drank heavily or who didn’t drink at all. The findings showed increases in mortality risk of 42 percent for heavy drinkers and 49 percent for abstainers in comparison to moderate drinkers. Despite the health benefits of moderate drinking, Holahan emphasizes the need for common sense. One or two drinks a day may be beneficial for some, but drinking a lot more can be dangerous, he said. “Older persons drinking alcohol should remember that consuming more than two drinks a day exceeds recommended alcohol consumption guidelines in the US and is associated with increased falls, a higher risk of alcohol use problems and potential adverse interactions with medications,” Holahan said. The study is published online and will be in the print edition of the journal’s November issue.

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