Longevity: To Drink Or Not To Drink?

You’ve probably heard the urban legend about the woman who is 105 years old and swears the secret to her longevity is a martini a day. You’ve also probably read the reason the French are healthier is because they drink a glass of wine everyday. Of course, you’ve also heard alcohol can have a negative impact on your health, too (most especially if you drink and drive). Most of us want to live as healthy a life for as long as possible. When it comes to the fountain of longevity, the question remains: to drink or not to drink?

Like with anything, there are those who abstain, those who dabble and those who go overboard. The net result? It may surprise you.

The Overboarders

A European psychiatry study revealed that alcoholism can shorten life expectancy by an average of 7.6 years and lead to 27 illnesses like liver cirrhosis and cancers of the head, neck, digestive tract and breasts. Alcoholism is defined as a dependency on alcohol. While there isn’t necessarily a number of drinks per day that puts one in the category of alcoholism, heavy drinking is 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days.

The Dabblers

But what if you drink occasionally? Medical researchers have done a lot of studies that actually show a little bit of alcohol can go a long way for your health. Alcohol can reduce the risk of ischemic strokes and lower the risk of heart disease. A study published by the Journal of Vascular Health and Risk Management shows that alcohol, especially red wine, is effective in keeping artery walls plaque-free and uninflamed.

Another study conducted by JAMA Internal Medicine demonstrates that regularly having 1-2 drinks a day for women and 2-4 per day for men are “inversely associated with total mortality.” Research from two Canadian scientists for the Society for the Study of Addiction suggests that we should treat alcohol intake like a medicine regime, taking it regularly, in a modest dosage to help boost health.

The Abstainers

Before you open that bottle of Merlot, Dr. Timothy Stockwell of Canada’s University of Victoria published a new analysis in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that defies the current thinking on moderate drinking. In reviewing 87 studies of drinking and health, he found a major flaw: the vast majority classify not only lifetime teetotalers as abstainers but also ex-drinkers that way. The issue is that many people stop drinking when they get ill or old. A 2005 study found that 27 of 30 risk factors for heart disease were more common in these abstainers than in moderate drinkers. It becomes difficult to draw conclusions by comparing moderate drinkers to a bunch of unhealthy abstainers because the moderate group looks healthier and more likely to live longer.

Dr. Russell Luetker, a cardiologist in Minneapolis and spokesman for the American Heart Association, says that benefits from moderate drinking aren’t big effects. “People who drink moderately have a whole bunch of characteristics that are protective against heart disease.”

The Longevity Calculator

Whether a few drinks or avoiding alcohol completely is best for your longevity remains to be seen. We’ve compiled all of the research on alcohol and longevity, which you can read here. We’ve created a tool to help you determine your longevity. Check out our tool here and see what will work best for your lifestyle.

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