Alcohol and Longevity: Important Facts for Long Life

What’s the relationship between drinking alcohol and longevity? Researchers wanted to know. So they examined average lifetime alcohol consumption, risk of cancer death, and deaths from all causes.

      Overview

I.   The Study

II.  Similar Study

III. Summary

IV.  Resources

I. The Study

To do so, they used data from 99,654 men and women aged 55-74. All had participated in the U.S. Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial.

Researchers knew that drinking alcohol in moderation increases the risk of some cancers.  And reduces that of other cancers. However, cardiovascular disease kills more people than all cancers combined. Importantly, moderate drinking greatly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it’s important to examine the impact of moderate drinking on deaths from all causes combined. That is, on all-cause mortality.

During the PLCO study, there were 836,740 person-years of follow-up. The study followed participants for an average of 8.9 years. There were 9,599 deaths during that study.

The researchers found a J-shaped association between average lifetime alcohol consumption and overall mortality. As alcohol consumption increased, deaths fell. As it increased even more it reached the mortality level of never and very light drinkers. But at high levels, the risk of death increases higher than that of abstainers and very light drinkers.

Thus, drinking alcohol in moderation has an overall benefit for longevity. But consuming at heavy levels has an overall negative effect on having a long life. So the researchers demonstratd that there can be too much of a good thing.

II. Similar Study

These findings are consistent with another large study that followed people for up to 34 years. Those researchers looked at the impact of five lifestyle factors on mortality. These were

  1. Not smoking.
  2. Appropriate weight.
  3. Physical activity.
  4. Drinking alcohol in moderation.
  5. Consuming a balanced diet.

The study found that people who met all five criteria: 

  • Enjoyed an 84% reduction in all-cause mortality.
  • Had an 82% lower cardiovascular disease mortality rate.
  • Exhibited a 65% reduction in cancer mortality.
  • Enjoyed an additional 12 to 14 years of life after 50.

Next, the researchers eliminated the factor of drinking in moderation. The mortality risk of those people dropped significantly in comparison with the moderate drinkers.

III. Summary: Alcohol and Longevity

alcohol and longevityThese studies add to the very strong evidence that drinking alcohol in moderation is beneficial. It contributes significantly to better health and longevity

Source of first study described: Kunzmann, A. et al. The association of lifetime alcohol use with mortality and cancer risk. PLoS Med, 2018, 15:e1002585. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002585.

IV. Resources on Alcohol and Longevity

Ford, G. The Benefits of Moderate Drinking.  Alcohol, Health, and Society. San Francisco: WAG, 1998.

Haerens, M. Alcohol. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2012.

NIAAA. Alcohol Health and Research World (magazine). Washington: NIAAA.

Thomas, M. The Longevity List. NSW, Aust: Exisle, 2017.

WHO. Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health. Geneva: WHO, 2014.