Relax, have a drink, or two. Your nightly beer may help you live longer. A recent study suggests that middle-aged people who have a couple of drinks a night had a lower risk of death from any cause over a 20-year period than both heavier drinkers and non-drinkers. Over the study period, compared to moderate drinkers, abstainers had a 49 percent increased risk of death and heavy drinkers (three or more drinks/day) had a 42 percent increased risk of death after controlling for a wide variety of potentially confounding factors.
The study involved 1,824 individuals between the ages of 55 and 65 and divided them into four groups based on their reported alcohol intake: light, moderate, and heavy drinkers and people who do not drink at all. The researchers controlled for a wider range of possibly confounding factors associated with abstention or heavy drinking than did previous studies. For example, they found that people who fell into either of the two extremes tended to be more depressed, lonelier, less active and report casino games more health problems, than those who drank more moderate amounts. But despite these confounding factors, the association still held up. Light drinking (average less than one drink per day) was not associated with an increased risk of death compared to moderate drinking. The results of the study reflect a “U-shaped” association between alcohol and mortality, with mortality lowest among people who consumed 1-2 drinks per day and higher at both of the opposite extremes.
The results of this study may seem contradictory given that other research has drawn a positive correlation between alcohol consumption (even just one beverage a day) and an increased risk for certain types of cancer, including breast, esophageal and other digestive system cancers, particularly in women. The authors point out that the observed protective effect from regular, moderate drinking is likely attributed to the cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, particularly since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Still, given the conflicting evidence of alcohol”s impact on health, reviewing your own personal risk factors and family history with your doctor should factor into a decision about whether drinking may be beneficial for you or not.