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Drinkers Outlive Non-Drinkers – Longevity Never Tasted So Good

drinking-fountain-of-youth

Is this the fountain of youth?

A recently published study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research shows that heavy drinkers actually live longer than those who abstain from alcohol. Scientists at the University of Texas Austin and Stanford University studied more than 1800 individuals over a twenty year period and correlated their alcohol consumption with all forms of death. Moderate drinkers, those that consume one to three drinks per day, had the lowest mortality rates. Heavy drinkers were 70% more likely to perish, and abstainers (those who currently did not drink) were over 100% more likely to die than moderates. Even controlling for past drinking habits (some abstainers were recovering alcoholics), sociodemographic info, and health, heavy drinkers were still only 45% more likely to die than moderates while nondrinkers rated in at +51%. While the authors don’t propose a single cause for why heavy drinking may be less detrimental to your health than abstaining, it seems clear that lifting a cup, especially in moderation, may be a fun means of pursuing longevity.

When studying areas around the world that live the longest (the Blue Zones) we seem to come across a winning formula for longevity: eat well (mostly plants), exercise regularly, and avoid stress. Further study of centenarians suggest that while genes play an important role in later years, lifestyle choices and social bonds may be bigger effects up to your 70s. How does the new data about drinking fit into this understanding? Well there are physiological effects such as reduced heart disease that are associated with moderate drinking, especially for red wines (perhaps due to resveratrol). But the easiest answer may be that alcohol is a social lubricant.

Yep, increased risks for liver disease and various cancers associated with heavy drinking are likely to offset the benefits received from consuming alcohol. So the gains that heavy drinkers have over tee-totalers may be social. Whether that means that abstainers are less likely to form new social bonds, or simply don’t have an easy way to release stress, I can’t say.

Before you race out to the pub to grab another pint with your mates, however, we should consider some of the limitations of this study. First, the study focused on individuals 55 to 65 years in age who had some form of outpatient care in the three years leading up to the study. As the research followed 20 years of their life, this puts many of the individuals in the 75 to 85 range at closing. That makes sense, clearly, as this was a study focusing on mortality, but it may be that alcohol consumption raises death rates among younger individuals in ways it wouldn’t for older ones (which you might expect in cases of accidental death, murder, and suicide).

While researchers strove to get an accurate sampling across many different demographics groups, the study also focused mostly on men, who made up 63% of the group. Social norms for drinking, as well as physiological benefits from alcohol consumption, are likely different for men than for women.

Scientists also did their best to control factors in their study. They adjusted for gender, age, health, former drinking habits, and behavior when reaching their conclusions about heavy drinkers outliving abstainers. Still, there may be other factors not adjusted for as alcohol consumption is such a complex social behavior. Overall mortality rates, not adjusted, were 69% for abstainers, 60% for heavy drinkers, and 41% for moderates.

The surest path to longevity may be in finding ways to get the benefits of behaviors while avoiding their risks. Even moderate alcohol consumption can raise chances for certain diseases and forms of accidental death. As scientists strive to find ways to give you the physiological benefits of drinking without the impairments, we should keep the social benefits in mind as well. Relieving stress and strengthening social bonds are a key ingredient to living a long and healthy life, and most of the world uses alcohol to help achieve these goals. If we find ways to pursue them without lifting a glass it may be a better solution. Still, even if we never divorce alcohol from its benefits, I’m sure we’ll find new ways to increase its effectiveness using technology. There are certainly a few robots who are willing to help.

[image credit: John White via WikiCommons]
[source: Holahan et al, 2010]

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16 comments

  • Sandee Benusa says:

    yeah i have seen it in my life..heavy drinkers live long time than who abstain from alcohol.
    Force Factor

  • Sandee Benusa says:

    yeah i have seen it in my life..heavy drinkers live long time than who abstain from alcohol.
    Force Factor

  • Henrik says:

    There could be so many reasons for this.
    I doubt that drinking is more healthy than non drinking when you look at the body.
    I think reasons are that some of the non-drikers were not drinking, because they might have been ill and/or didn’t drink because they took a medication that didn’t allow alcohol.
    Also the moderate drinkers may have a happier life style that overweights the toxic effects of moderate alcohol consumption.
    Perhaps some of the non-drinkers are more the anal religious self stressing people who die earlier because of their rigide psyche.

  • Henrik says:

    There could be so many reasons for this.
    I doubt that drinking is more healthy than non drinking when you look at the body.
    I think reasons are that some of the non-drikers were not drinking, because they might have been ill and/or didn’t drink because they took a medication that didn’t allow alcohol.
    Also the moderate drinkers may have a happier life style that overweights the toxic effects of moderate alcohol consumption.
    Perhaps some of the non-drinkers are more the anal religious self stressing people who die earlier because of their rigide psyche.

  • IPV4 says:

    Oh Henrik, you are grasping at straws.

    • Henrik says:

      Oh yeah a study from Texas…
      As if it wouldn’t be well known fact that alcohol damages all kinds of body cells and especially brains cells. It causes cancer and dementia. I am no way ‘grasping at straws’ I just pointed out that there are many things to take into consideration, which is often left out by so poorly made studies like this one that only sort out some random correlations.

      • Mike Is Bored says:

        I don’t think you are grasping at straws the sort of personality that leads you down one road or another may also have independent health effects. I think that is a confounder that is hard to control for. As for illness leading to not drinking it does look like they do control for that.

  • IPV4 says:

    Oh Henrik, you are grasping at straws.

    • Henrik says:

      Oh yeah a study from Texas…
      As if it wouldn’t be well known fact that alcohol damages all kinds of body cells and especially brains cells. It causes cancer and dementia. I am no way ‘grasping at straws’ I just pointed out that there are many things to take into consideration, which is often left out by so poorly made studies like this one that only sort out some random correlations.

      • Mike Is Bored says:

        I don’t think you are grasping at straws the sort of personality that leads you down one road or another may also have independent health effects. I think that is a confounder that is hard to control for. As for illness leading to not drinking it does look like they do control for that.

  • Sophos says:

    Given all the different factors they needed to account for, I don’t see how 1800 would be enough to represent everybody.

  • Sophos says:

    Given all the different factors they needed to account for, I don’t see how 1800 would be enough to represent everybody.

  • Patrick says:

    abstinent people do too… It’s all about quality of life. If you live a life drunk and without sex you might live longer, but what good would that do. It’s just 10 more years as an absent minded virgin.

  • David Hanson says:

    These findings are not at all surprising. Research over a long period of time has found that consuming alcohol in moderation is associated with better health and greater longevity than is abstaining from alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and spirits).

    http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/AlcoholAndHealth.html

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