Can moderate drinking help you live longer?

August 15, 2017 in Cancer Prevention, Nutrition Topics in the News

Can moderate drinking help you live longer?

Having a little wine or beer most days of the week may help lower the odds of a premature death as long as that drink or two doesn’t routinely turn into more, a new study confirms. 

Researchers examined health survey data on more than 333,000 U.S. adults, following them for an average of about eight years to see how their drinking habits influenced their survival odds. 

Compared with people who never had a drop of alcohol, light to moderate drinkers were more than 20 percent less likely to die early of any cause, or of heart disease in particular, the researchers found. 

Heavy drinking, binge drinking tied to greater risk of early death, cancer

Heavy drinkers and binge drinkers, however, were at least 10 percent more likely to die from any cause during the study, and they had at least 20 percent higher odds of an early death from cancer in particular. 

Heavy drinking has long been linked to a variety of medical problems including liver disease, heart disease and certain cancers. But previous research has offered an inconclusive picture of the survival odds associated with light or moderate drinking. 

The current analysis attempts to tackle two issues that have contributed to inconsistent results in much of the earlier research: `abstainer bias’ and `sick quitter bias.’ 

Many other studies compared moderate drinkers to people who currently didn’t drink, making it impossible to separate people who stopped drinking due to addiction or other health reasons from people who were lifelong abstainers. 

The researchers sorted adults into six categories: lifetime abstainers; people who have always had alcohol on rare occasions; ex-drinkers; current light drinkers who have fewer than three drinks a week; moderate drinkers (more than three drinks a week but fewer than 14 for men or 7 for women); or heavy drinkers (more than 14 for men or 7 for women). 

During the study period, 34,754 people died, including 8,947 fatalities from cardiovascular diseases and 8,427 from cancer.

Male heavy drinkers had a 25 percent increased risk of death during the study and 67 percent higher odds of deaths from cancer than men who never drank. These differences weren’t statistically meaningful for women, however. 

Study limitations

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how heavy drinking might hasten death or light to moderate alcohol consumption might help people live longer. Researchers also relied on survey participants to accurately recall and report how much they drank. 

Scientists aren’t sure why light or moderate drinking might have a protective effect. 

Moderate alcohol consumption may improve the health of blood vessels by reducing inflammation and your ability to form blood clots, increasing levels of good HDL cholesterol, and fending off harmful free radicals.

Even if it doesn’t explain why drinking a little might lead to a longer life, the study does confirm that the risk of death tied to alcohol use increases sharply when people regularly drink more than they should.

Source: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, August 14, 2017.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.