Does Moderate Drinking Really Help You Live Longer?

health benefits of moderate alcohol, is alcohol good for me, does alcohol protect your heart, moderate alcohol consumption, should I have a drink every day, does alcohol cause cancer

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

May 23, 2018

  • Should you drink for your health?
  • Studies on the benefits of moderate drinking are flawed
  • The dark side of alcohol

Over the years there have been plenty of positive news stories about the “benefits” of moderate alcohol consumption. Every now and then a patient even tells me they’re thinking of taking up drinking as a way to improve their health.

After all, it sure sounds like an easy way to promote heart health, lower your risk of diabetes, help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and live a longer lifetime, doesn’t it?

But despite these potential healthy side effects of drinking in moderation, it also comes with some decidedly unhealthy ones.

What’s more, it turns out that many of the health benefits associated with moderate alcohol consumption may be based on flawed research.

Studies on the Benefits of Moderate Drinking are Flawed

When studies compare moderate drinkers with current abstainers (non-drinkers), there is a key factor that that many of them don’t take into consideration. A lot of “abstainers” are previous drinkers who gave up alcohol at some point in the past.

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Let me drive that point home.

Some of the “abstainers” involved in these analyses used to drink, perhaps heavily. And they may already have serious health issues related to previous alcohol abuse. In fact, those health problems could be the reason they stopped drinking in the first place.

But guess what happens when you remove these former drinkers from the equation? What happens when you only compare “never” drinkers with light, moderate or heavy drinkers?

Well I’ll tell you this. It has a drastic impact on the outcomes of these studies.

As it turns out, it’s actually occasional drinkers – people who have less than one drink per week – who live the longest.

At the same time, those former drinkers (who are current “abstainers”) have quite an elevated risk of early death. So of course! When you lump them in with the real abstainers, it’s going to make non-drinkers appear to be an unhealthy lot.

You can see how easily this can skew the results of a study. Yet this common error is where we are getting a lot of those exciting reports telling us how good moderate alcohol consumption is for us.

The Dark Side of Alcohol

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In addition to all of this flawed data, there are also many damaging health effects associated with drinking.

In particular, even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with the development of certain types of cancer. This includes about a 25% increased risk of breast cancer, a 50% higher chance of esophageal cancer and about a 13% increased risk for colon cancer.

In fact, just one and half drink or less a day accounts for up to 35% of all alcohol related cancer deaths.

And if you’re worried about your mental health, it’s important to know that moderate drinkers have about three times the odds of developing hippocampal atrophy compared to non-drinkers.

This is the area of your brain where memories are stored. It’s also the region of the brain where Alzheimer’s strikes first – even before any symptoms appear. So it’s extremely important to your long-term cognitive health.

Now, I don’t want to spoil your fun. And to be entirely honest, I enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage just as much as anyone.

So if you like having a drink every now and then, go for it. Take a little pleasure in sipping your favorite alcoholic beverage. Just don’t trick yourself into thinking its good for you.

But if you don’t drink, please! Don’t take it up with the idea that you’re going to get some phenomenal health benefits by having a glass of wine or a martini every day. You won’t.

SOURCES:

Krnic M, et al. Comparison of acute effects of red wine, beer and vodka against hyperoxia-induced oxidative stress and increase in arterial stiffness in healthy humans. Atherosclerosis.2011 Oct;218(2):530-5.

Morrow D, et al. Alcohol inhibits smooth muscle cell proliferation via regulation of the Notch signaling pathway. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2010 Dec;30(12):2597-603.

Loyola University Health System. Moderate drinking may protect against Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Aug. 2011.

Howard AA, et al. Effect of alcohol consumption on diabetes mellitus: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2004 Feb 3;140(3):211-9.

Stockwell T, et al. Do “Moderate” Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Alcohol Consumption and All-Cause Mortality. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2016 Mar;77(2):185-98.

Park SY, et al. Alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk among women from five ethnic groups with light to moderate intakes: the Multiethnic Cohort Study. Int J Cancer. 2014 Mar 15;134(6):1504-10.

Islami F, et al. Alcohol drinking and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma with focus on light-drinkers and never-smokers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Cancer. 2011 Nov 15;129(10):2473-84.

Wang Y, et al. A pooled analysis of alcohol intake and colorectal cancer. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2015; 8(5): 6878–6889.

Nelson DE, et al. Alcohol-attributable cancer deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2013 Apr;103(4):641-8.

Topiwala A, et al. Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study. BMJ. 2017 Jun 6;357:j2353.

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