Moderate drinking in older age may prolong life

Study shows that moderate drinkers had lower mortality rates than people who abstain.

Can moderate drinking prolong life?

A new study has discovered that moderate or occasional drinkers have lower mortality rates than people who abstain from alcohol.

The study, which involved almost 8000 older adults (born between 1931 and 1941) who provided information on their drinking habits since 1992 in biannual interviews from 1998 to 2014, contrasts with many previous studies in this area.

Although moderate alcohol intake in older adults has been previously linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, recent studies have suggested little – if any – health benefit to alcohol. 

Assessing the relationship between alcohol intake and mortality is extremely challenging, partly because of the need to disentangle the effect of alcohol from that of other factors that influence health, and also because people’s drinking habits often change over time.

The Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is "one of the largest and most rigorous" studies on alcohol consumption and death risk in the United States.

At each assessment timepoint in this study, participants were categorised into one of five groups for analysis: lifetime abstainers, current abstainers, heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers and occasional drinkers.

Lifetime abstainers were those who had less than 12 drinks in their lifetime, while current abstainers did not drink in the assessment period but drank, or my have drank in the past.

Heavy drinkers were defined as consuming more than three (men) or two (women) drinks per day or binging more than five (men) or four (women) drinks in a single day.

Moderate drinkers were defined as drinking one to two (women) or one to three (men) drinks one or more days per week, and not binging more than five (men) or four (women) drinks in a single day.

Occasional drinkers were defined as drinking less than one day per week, not binging more than five (men) or four (women) drinks in a single day and drinking a maximum of three (men) or two (women) drinks per day.

By also tracking any deaths that occurred during the assessment period, the researchers could examine the relationship between alcohol intake and mortality.

The analysis accounted for a wide range of additional factors (termed ‘confounders’) that can influence health outcomes – including those that vary over time  (such as level of household assets, smoking, body mass index, health/functioning, depression and chronic disease) as well as static factors such as age, education, sex and race.

The researchers found that, overall, moderate or occasional drinkers had lower mortality rates than people who abstained from alcohol, after accounting for confounding factors.

Mortality among moderate/occasional drinkers was also generally lower than among lifetime alcohol abstainers, at least in women.

As might be expected, the mortality benefit of drinking was lower among smokers than non-smokers and the mortality reduction was also lower for men than women.

The researchers, though, were cautious about drawing firm conclusions from the results. Current abstainers had the highest mortality rate, and this was probably indicative of a ‘reverse causation’ effect whereby people stop drinking at the onset of ill health.

How frequently do you drink during the week?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    Ted Wards
    9th Jul 2019
    Its funny how when these reports are published, you never get to find out who paid for the research. If they were honest and published this information, more people might take notice because if any company linked to the sale of alcohol or it of its products were involved, this is a paid result designed to give people false and misleading information, nothing more.
    9th Jul 2019
    Did you actually look at the relevant report Ted?
    It's a pity Ben did not clearly reference his source.

    9th Jul 2019
    Beer isn't all there is in life - but life could feel a lot longer without it...

    Give a man a six pack and he'll drink for a day - teach him to brew and he's out of your hair in the shed for a week......
    9th Jul 2019
    In Afghanistan the Tals abstain from alcohol, because they know the Aussies will sniff it out and find them...
    Not a Bludger
    9th Jul 2019
    Well, there you go - bad yesterday but good today.
    Methinks - begone the dogooders & PC’s - just leave it to the individual to make his/her/ their lifestyle decisions.
    9th Jul 2019
    Be interesting to now if this was an overall report on both beer and wine.
    Would like to know if one is more relevant than the other.
    9th Jul 2019
    Here's a link (or copy address to your browser). Read abstract or download whole article.
    I agree that these reports on medical studies are often presented without any supporting material or directions. I do think that we have become more sceptical about so-called scientific breakthroughs or apparently amazing research!
    9th Jul 2019
    Oops, you do have to pay to download it ... Here is another link with a little more detail...
    9th Jul 2019
    Try NO ALCOHOL!!clear head,fit as ... too readily available,socially acceptable GET that FANTASTIC feeling your (temple)body deserves!!!yeeeha!
    Big drinker when young!
    Sorry party pooper!!!!!!
    9th Jul 2019
    Puh-lease - it's hard enough to face the day as it is ....

    Time for a Guinness, methinks...
    10th Jul 2019
    ya must be OIRISH Methinks!
    Chris B T
    9th Jul 2019
    Some on this LC site would have you believe they Haven't 2 20c coins to Rub Together with the current OAP Payment after all expenses paid out.
    Maybe once a year Drink.
    9th Jul 2019
    AGREE!!Crying pooooor!!
    10th Jul 2019
    oh yes many cry poor...but have money to buy scratchies, play lotto, smoke and drink...depends on your priorities of course.
    9th Jul 2019
    Damned reports - I am going to die eventually and I refuse to give up something I enjoy - I do not crave a drink and can go weeks without drinking, but then I can enjoy 2 large glasses of red every night for a month - I feel the same with or without. Body seems to manage OK, I never miss work (I am 71) no hangovers - to hell with everything in moderation - enjoy life, enjoy your food, enjoy your drink, enjoy your choice of exercise, partner whatever - some of those who don't drink dont necessarily live longer - it just seems that way - ha ha !! - bit like some of the boring vegans - have to admit though I did stop smoking when they got so expensive and did not miss those at all.

    10th Jul 2019
    more than willing to be a guinea pig if there is a survey underway
    15th Jul 2019
    No alcohol is the best for optimum health and to minimize risks of disease later on, your liver hates it and has to work overtime to get rid of this toxin.

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