Drinkers Outlive Teetotalers

thListeners of yesterday show will know that Mike discussed research that illustrated that alcohol helps preserve a cell’s DNA during mitosis thus leading to better overall health of the individual. This was exciting news for those of us you imbibe alcoholic beverages. I remarked that I had read studies that showed that moderate drinking is actually the healthiest of all lifestyles but feared what was considered moderate.

After a little web surfing I found the Time Magazine article that I was thinking of when discussing longevity of drinkers versus those who do not. It had some very interesting results. The article starts with the most fascinating of the results. That even when adjusting for the criticisms fronted by Alcoholics Anonymous (which by their own bylaws are not so supposed to voice opinions outside meetings) that heavy drinkers, on average, live longer that those who have never had a drink.

One of the most contentious issues in the vast literature about alcohol consumption has been the consistent finding that those who don’t drink tend to die sooner than those who do. The standard Alcoholics Anonymous explanation for this finding is that many of those who show up as abstainers in such research are actually former hard-core drunks who had already incurred health problems associated with drinking.

But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren’t entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does tend to increase one’s risk of dying, even when you exclude former problem drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers’ mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.

In a revelation that was music to my ears, the definition of moderate was defined as someone who had one to three drinks per day which is a lot higher than I imaged would ever be considered science as moderation. Thus my enthusiasm to have a beer or two with dinner is actually helping keep me alive longer than if I had never picked up the taste for beer in the first place.

The sample of those studied were people between the age of 55 and 65. The 1824 participants were observed and surveyed for twenty years looking at health and longevity for that time period. Shockingly 69% of teetotalers died during the twenty year study while only 60% of heavy drinkers died and a measly 41% of moderate drinkers died.

The Time article does a good job at summarizing why researchers believe these surprising results were the case.

Even though heavy drinking is associated with higher risk for cirrhosis and several types of cancer (particularly cancers in the mouth and esophagus), heavy drinkers are less likely to die than people who don’t drink, even if they never had a problem with alcohol. One important reason is that alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, and social interactions are vital for maintaining mental and physical health. As I pointed out last year, nondrinkers show greater signs of depression than those who allow themselves to join the party.

The article was quick to cite the dangers of alcohol abuse which is important to recognize. As solid as the health benefits of moderate drinking appear to be it is worth reminding everyone that alcohol abuse has real physical consequences like cirrhosis, memory impairment, and cancer. Plus alcohol addiction is a real and awful issue and treatment should be sought for those suffering it.

But keeping the downside to alcohol in mind it is nice to know that heading to happy hour after work with a few friends/coworkers can be one of the healthier things to do. So tonight, have a pint or two or three and embrace the reality that you are only increasing your odds of living longer.

Live long and have a few beers.