Is moderate alcohol consumption really linked to a longer life?

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Does moderate alcohol consumption reduce the risk of death? Rafa Elias / Getty Images
  • A new study contradicts previous findings that link moderate alcohol consumption to health benefits and longer lifespan.
  • Researchers have found that those who abstain from alcohol may have a higher death rate due to risky behaviors they engaged in earlier in life.
  • The study also shows that people who abstain from alcohol and who do not have other risk factors, such as smoking or self-reported poor health, are not statistically more likely to die at one. early age than those with low to moderate alcohol consumption.

Some recent studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption to health benefits, such as lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Other studies tout the potential health benefits of alcohol consumption wine and Tequila.

However, the results of a new study from the University of Greifswald in Germany contradict the idea of ​​drinking alcohol to protect health.

Earlier studies have shown an increased risk of mortality in people who abstain from alcohol, compared to people who drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol. However, the authors of the recent study attribute this to risky behaviors that abstainers from alcohol engaged in earlier in life.

The study appears in the journal PLOS Medicine.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2019, 85.6% of people aged 18 or older in the United States reported having consumed an alcoholic beverage at some point in their life.

The NIAAA also reports that 14.5 million people in the United States aged 12 or older are living with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to NIAAA, AUD is “characterized by a reduced ability to stop or control alcohol consumption despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences”.

The NIAAA also notes that approximately 95,000 people in the United States die each year from alcohol-related causes. This makes alcohol the third preventable cause of death in the country.

Previous research suggests that people who drink alcohol in moderation live longer than those who do not. Another, older to study concludes that men who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have a longer life expectancy than people who drink alcohol occasionally or a lot.

Teacher. Dr Ulrich John and his team believe their research shows that the lower life expectancy of those who do not drink alcohol compared to those who drink it may be due to other high risk factors.

This contradicts the idea that consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol confers health benefits.

“It is a problem […] that medical students and patients receive the advice he could [improve] health if they drink small to moderate amounts of alcohol, ”said Dr John Medical News Today.

“For many years, epidemiological data seemed to reveal that low to moderate alcohol drinkers live longer than non-drinkers. This was the scientific basis for the attitude of medical care that alcohol consumption could promote health, especially cardiovascular health. “

“In recent years, more and more shortcomings of old research have become known,” continued Dr John. “So we tried to prove what kind of subgroups are found among non-abstainers, perhaps subgroups with risk factors that might explain the apparently higher likelihood of dying early compared to light to moderate drinkers. . “

During the study, Dr John and his team examined data from a random sample of 4,028 German adults who had participated in previous interviews. The original interviews included questions from a standardized AUD identification test and took place between 1996 and 1997. At the time, participants were between 18 and 64 years old.

The interview included questions about alcohol consumption in the 12 months preceding the interview, followed by questions about risky behaviors that participants might have adopted earlier in their lives, such as:

  • former addiction to alcohol or drugs
  • risky alcohol consumption
  • smoke daily

Participants also rated their overall health using categories ranging from poor to excellent.

The researchers found that 447 participants (11.1%) had not consumed alcohol in the 12 months prior to the interviews in 1996-1997. Of these, 405 (90.6%) drank alcohol and 322 (72.04%) had engaged in at least one of the risk behaviors listed.

Of the 322 with one or more risk factors, 114 (35.4%) had undergone an AUD. Additionally, 161 (50%) had no alcohol-related risk, but smoked daily.

In addition, Dr John and his team obtained data indicating whether the participants had died 20 years after the initial interviews.

Looking at the death rates of study participants, the researchers observed that 119 (26.6%) of the 447 people who abstained from alcohol had died 20 years after the initial interview. In addition, 248 (11.26%) of the 2,203 participants who had drunk low to moderate amounts of alcohol in the 12 months prior to the interview also died at age 20.

However, scientists found that those who had never drunk alcohol and those who had abstained in the 12 months prior to the study and had no prior risk factors did not have a high rate of alcoholism. higher mortality than those who drank low to moderate amounts of alcohol.

The research team also observed a direct correlation between smoking and the additional risk of alcohol. They conclude that smoking can encourage alcohol consumption.

Dr John and his team conclude that their results show that people who abstain from alcohol will generally not have a higher risk of death than those who consume low to moderate amounts.

Any perceived increased risk of death is likely due to lifestyle factors prior to abstinence or smoking.

“Our results add to the growing evidence that low to moderate alcohol consumption should not be recommended for health reasons,” said Dr John.

MNT also spoke with Director of the NIAAA, Dr George Koob on research and the implications it may have on other recommendations regarding alcohol consumption for health benefits.

“There is no reason to recommend drinking alcohol for health benefits,” he said. “To minimize the risk of harm, we recommend that adults who choose to drink follow the moderate drinking guidelines in the Diet guidelines for Americans, who recommend up to one drink per day for women or two for men.

“Keep in mind that there are still health risks associated with moderate alcohol consumption, including an increased risk of breast cancer from one drink per day for women. Decisions about alcohol consumption should be made with an understanding of the risks involved.

– Dr George Koob

Further, Dr John said MNT that research may shed light on how past alcohol consumption can still impact a person’s health, whether or not they abstain later in life:

“Our study is one of the few to have asked for details [about the] previous life of non-voters, details which may be known risk factors for premature death. Our study is perhaps the only one to date that includes a standardized diagnosis of a former addiction to alcohol or drugs, that is, a serious health disorder that may explain the short delay to death. .

Dr Koob agrees: “Yes, the results confirm the fact that chronic excessive alcohol consumption can have harmful consequences on the body. The good news is that an individual’s overall health and quality of life can be greatly improved with prolonged abstinence.

What about the next steps in this research? “In the future, research should address the problem that low to moderate alcohol consumption can increase the likelihood of death,” Dr. John replied. “Even small amounts of alcohol can increase the likelihood of female breast cancer or hypertension, both very serious health conditions and common in many populations in general.”

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