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Teetotalers, Boozers and the Health Benefits of Drinking Alcohol

Posted Sep 01 2010 12:31pm

There's nothing like a study touting the health benefits of drinking alcohol to put people in a celebratory mood. No doubt moderate drinkers are tipping their glasses to one such study published in the September issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research .

The study found that drinkers aged 55 to 65 have lower mortality rates than non-drinkers. That's right: Subjects who did not drink had twice the risk of death as moderate drinkers (defined as someone who drinks two to three drinks a day). Even compared to heavy drinkers, who average more than three drinks a day, the mortality risk for non-drinkers in the study was still higher.

alcohol-lifespan

The study adds to other research that's been pointing to the benefits of drinking a little alcohol--mostly in the form of red wine .

But before you break out the champagne, it's important to note that most of the non-drinkers in the study were less healthy than the drinkers to begin with.

According to the authors, the abstainers were more likely to have "prior drinking problems, to be obese and to smoke cigarettes" than their drinking counterparts. They also were less affluent, less likely to be physically active, less likely to be married and less likely to socialize—factors associated with shorter lifespans.

Once researchers controlled for those factors, subjects in the study died in rates similar to heavy drinkers, but still higher than moderate drinkers.

Good news for the cocktail crowd? Maybe not. It's hard for scientists to effectively control for that many factors, and this kind of study—one where subjects self report their behavior—doesn't produce the most reliable results.

Some people may interpret the findings as an open invitation to belly up to the bar. And that's a problem. As the researchers in the study point out, moderate drinking can increase the risk of falls, lead to alcohol abuse and interfere with certain medications in older people.

Plus, there are other things people in this age group can do that are proven to have a bigger impact on mortality rates than consuming alcohol—such as losing weight, quitting smoking and socializing more. And those are definitely worth toasting.

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