Drinkers Live Longer: Why Does Drinking Increase Length of Life?

Moderate drinkers live longer in general than either abstainers or alcohol abusers. That is, moderate alcohol consumption increases longevity or length of life. 

Overview

I. Background

II. Studies
A. Reviews
B. Studies of Women
C. Studies of Men
D. Studies of Women and Men

III. Conclusion

It does this largely by improving health and reducing the risk of major causes of death.

For example, moderately drinking alcohol reduces risk of death from cardiovascular diseases by almost half.  That alone has a major impact on lengthening life.  And cardiovascular diseases cause about half of deaths in much of the world.

In addition, moderate drinkers are generally less likely to suffer other diseases such as these.

• Type 2 diabetes
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Osteoporosis
• Gallbladder disease
• Enlarged prostate
• Dementia (including Alzheimer’s)
• Kidney cancer
• Thyroid cancer
• Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer)
• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer)
• Peripheral artery disease
• Metabolic syndrome
• Essential tremors
• Hepatitis A
• Kidney stones
• Parkinson’s disease
• Atherosclerosis
• Stress and depression
• Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
• Asthma and lung disease
• Abdominal aortic aneurysm
• Hypertension or high blood pressure
• Helicobacter pylori infection (the major cause of hepatitis B
• Intermittent claudication1

I. Background: Drinkers Live Longer

drinkers live longer

Dr. Raymond Pearl

The first researcher to present scientific evidence that drinkers live longer was Dr. Raymond Pearl. He was one of the best-known scientists in the first half of the 20th century. In 1923, Dr. Pearl authored a book chapter revealing his findings.2  In 1926 he published Alcohol and Longevity.3  This was during National Prohibition (1920-1933). Many temperance advocates opposed his research. In addition, finding that drinkers live longer than abstainers was not very relevant in the U.S. during Prohibition,

drinkers live longerIn 1991, CBS News devoted a segment of its “60 Minutes” TV program to the “French Paradox.” That’s the fact that the French eat a diet rich in fats and cholesterol. Yet they have a coronary heart disease rate 40 percent lower than the U.S. The explanation suggested was that the French consumption of wine provided great protection against the disease.4

This was news to most viewers but not to alcohol researchers. For the previous two decades studies were reporting their findings. Moderate drinkers had large reductions in cardiovascular disease. And they tended to live longer. The alcohol could be wine, beer, or spirits.

Myth

The segment on “60 Minutes” started the myth that the health and longevity benefits were from drinking only red wine. Yet it appears that the primary beneficial component of alcoholic beverages is the alcohol itself.

Studies on drinking and longevity have expanded around the world in recent decades. Almost all have found either a U-shaped or a J-shaped relationship between drinking and death from any and all causes.

drinkers live longer

Example of U-Shaped Curve

The part of the letter U or J on the left represents the death rate for abstainers. The middle point represents that of light and moderate drinkers. The part at the right represents the rate for heavy drinkers.

drinkers live longer

Example of a J-Shaped Curve

If a study finds that non-drinkers and heavy drinkers both have similar death rates, it has found a U-shaped relationship. If it finds that heavy drinkers have a death rate higher than abstainers, it has found a J-shaped relationship.

II. Studies on Alcohol and Longevity

A. Reviews and Meta-Analyses

Meta-analysis is a statistical method for synthesizing data from a number of studies.

• The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that moderate drinkers have the lowest all-cause death.5

• Analysts reviewed 59 studies alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality.  They found a general J-shaped curve.6

drinkers live longer• Investigators meta- analyzed 34 studies of alcohol and total mortality among 1,015,835 men and women around the world. Women who had 1-2 drinks daily and men who had 2-4 drinks daily had the lowest death rate.7

• Researchers made a meta-analysis of 16 studies assessing drinking andoverall mortality. They found a J-shaped curve between drinking and death rates.This was true for both men and women.8

• Analysts conducted a study of all major research on heart disease. They found that moderate drinkers live longer on average. Such drinkers had a much lower risk of dying than either non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.9

Abstaining is a Risk Factor

• Scientists analyzed data from a number of studies. Prospective studies of middle-aged men almost universally find a U-shaped curve between alcohol and risk of death. Abstaining was a risk for all-cause death. Moderate drinkers live longer10

• Researchers analyzed 20 cohort studies. The most protective levels varied by gender and country. In the U.S., about one drink per day was most protective. However, in the U.K, it was almost twice that. The optimum rates for women were lower.11

• Statisticians made a meta-analysis of 54 studies. They explored the idea that “sick quitters” among non-drinkers exaggerates the longevity benefits of moderate drinking. Analysts found no support for the theory.12

• Others meta-analyzed nine studies thatexamined the link between alcohol drinking and risk of all-cause death among patients with hypertension. Low to moderate drinkers had a large drop in all-cause death.13

•Researchers meta-analyzed eight studies of 16,351 patients with a history of cardiovascular disease. They found a J-shaped pattern. The lowest risk of death among light and moderate drinkers.14

• This meta-analysis was of all prior on alcohol and risk of all-cause death. There  were systematic factors on that relationship. For example, older people get the greatest protective effect of drinking. But the overall beneficial effect of light to moderate drinking remained consistent.15

drinkers live longerB. Studies of Women

• Doctors analyzed data from over 85,000 women. There was a drop in risk of all-cause mortality among moderate drinkers.16

drinkers live longer

Canadian Flag

• Canadian physicians prospectively studied a large cohort of middle-aged women. Compared with abstainers, light and moderate drinkers had a markedly lower risk of all-cause death.17

drinkers live longer

Swedish Flag

• Researchers followed a cohort of 6,917 women aged 50-59 living in Sweden for nine years. The researchers concluded that abstaining was a risk factor for all-cause mortality.18

• Epidemiologists followed for a mean of eight years 116,186 postmenopausal women. In comparison to lifetime abstention from alcohol, moderate drinkers had a lower risk of all-cause mortality.19

• MDs examined alcohol and all-cause mortality in 26,399 women. They followed them for a mean of 12.2 years. In addition, they adjusted for possible confounders. Drinking and all-cause mortality formed J-shaped pattern.20

• Swedish nvestigators tracked a cohort of 47,921 women aged 30-49 for 13 years. In comparison to abstainers, light and moderate drinkers had a large reduction in risk of all-cause mortality.21

drinkers live longerC. Studies of Men

•  In China, doctors made a large study in of middle-aged men. Those who drank in moderation had about 20% lower risk of all-cause mortality than abstainers.22

• British scholars studied 12,000 male physicians for 13 years. Those who drankoderately had the lowest risk of all-cause mortality.23

Very Large Study

• Epidemiologists followed over 200,000 men for 12 years. Moderate drinkers had a much lower risk of all-cause mortality during that time than non-drinkers.24

• Investigators tracked 89,299 men for five and one-half years. Light and moderate drinkers tended to live longer than those who either abstained or drank heavily.25

drinkers live longer

Italian Flag

• Italians studied 1,536 men ages 45 to 65. Those who had one to four drinks each day gained about two years of life. That’s in comparison to either occasional or heavy drinkers.26

• Doctors in China made a prospective study of middle-aged men. Having two drinks per day lead to a 19% reduction in mortality risk compared to abstainers.27

Long Study
drinkers live longer

Japanese Flag

• In Japan, scholars studied  5,135 male physicians for 19 years. Occasional drinkers and those who had one to four drinks per day had large drops in risk of all-cause death. That’s in comparison to life-time abstainers. This finding held after controlling for possible confounding factors.28

drinkers live longer

English Flag

• This study followed 7,735 middle-aged British men for 7.5 years. Those men who had one-half to six drinks per day had a 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality. That’s in comparison to  non-drinkers. Those who had more than six drinks per day had a 10% lower risk than abstainers.29

• Physicians tracked 1,823 men for 12 years. That was 21,716 man years of follow-up. Overall mortality was lowest for moderate drinkers in each of three age groups.30

German Study
drinkers live longer

German Flag

• This study involved 8,043 construction workers in Germany aged 25-64. years. It followed-up after an average of seven years. Researchers found a U-shaped curve between alcohol consumption and total mortality. The Abstainers had adeath rate 2.8 times higher than men who had up to 3.5 drinks per day. The study excluded non-drinkers with pre-existing diseases. This did not change the U-shaped pattern.31

• A study followed 1,422 male government employees for 10 years. It found a U-shaped relationship between drinking and all-cause mortality. Differences in smoking, blood pressure, plasma cholesterol, and employment grade did not change it.32

Scottish Study
drinkers live longer

Scottish Flag

• A study in Scotland followed-up 5,766 men aged 35 to 64 after 21 years. Non-drinkers and moderate drinkers had similar risk for all-cause mortality. Heavy drinkers had an increased risk.33

• A study in Japan followed 19,231 men aged 40 to 59 for seven years. Moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of all-cause death.34

drinkers live longer

Finnish Flag

• Finnish analysts studied ten-year all-cause mortality in 1,112 men aged 55 to 74. At follow-up, they found a J-shaped curve. Light and moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of death from any cause. In other words, such drinkers live longer.35

• Physicians studied World War II veteran male twin pairs, in which one drank and the other abstained. They followed them for 24 years. The noted first or only death in these pairs. Light and moderate drinking co-twins had a reduced risk almost half that of their abstaining brothers.36

• A study followed middle-aged (51 to 64 years old) and elderly (65 to 75 years old) Japanese-American men for about 15 years. All-cause mortality formed a J-shaped pattern in relation to drinking.37

• Doctors made a study of Japanese-American men in Hawaii. They found a U-shaped curve for total mortality. Light drinking gave the greatest protection.38

French Study
drinkers live longer

French Flag

• A French study followed 34,014 middle-aged men. It followed them for 10 to 15 years. Moderate wine drinkers (two to five glasses per day) had a 24-31% drop in all-cause death.39

• Investigators studied  31,637 men in Texas with a mean age of 42.9. They followed them for a mean of 16 years. The investigators then adjusting for possible confounders. They found a flattened J-shape pattern between risk of all-cause mortality and drinking. The lowest risk was among light drinkers.40

• Researchers repeatedly tracked 1,373 men aged 40 to 60 for 40 years . Long-term light drinking greatly reduced the risk of all-cause mortality. Light wine drinkers had about five years longer life expectancy.41

• A Swedish study followed young men in the Swedish military. The protective effects against cardiovascular disease did not outweigh the negative effects of abuse in this population. It has a very small risk of death from such disease.42

•  Harvard researchers reported that the risk of all-cause mortality was 21%-28% lower among men who drank moderately. This, when compared with non-drinkers.43

drinkers live longerD. Studies of Men and Women

• Researchers followed about 490,000 men and women aged 30 to 104 for nine years. Their mean age was 56. Moderate drinkers were much less likely to die of all causes than non-drinkers. Among both men and women at all drinking levels, the risk of all-causes mortality  was lower than that of abstainers. Those levels  included six or more drinks per day. Clearly, drinkers live longer.44

drinkers live longer

U.S. Flag

• Epidemiologists studied 88,000 people in the U.S.were over a ten-year period. Moderate drinkers were 27% less likely to die of any cause. That’s in comparison to either non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.45

• Hawaiian doctors studied over 40,000 people in Hawaii. Moderate drinkers had a much lower risk of all-cause mortality than abstainers.46

• Doctors studied 2,487 adults aged 70 to 79 for an average of over five and one-half years. Light to moderate drinkers had a much lower risk of all-cause mortality than either abstainers or occasional drinkers.47

• Epidemiologists studied 34,159 persons over 65 for ten years. Men who had four drinks per day had a much lower risk of all-cause mortality. Women who had two per day also had a much lower risk.48

• Clinicians tracked 12,519 adults in the U.S. aged 55 and older for four years. Moderate drinkers had a 28% lower risk of death than did abstainers.49

Long Study

• Danish investigators followed a cohort of 11,914 persons aged 20 or older for 20 years. Both non-drinkers and heavy drinkers had the highest rates of all-cause mortality.50

drinkers live longer

Australian Flag

• Australian doctors studied nearly 3,000 adults for 14 years. Compared with abstainers, moderate drinkers were much less likely to die over time.51

• Epidemiologists tracked 111,511 persons in the U.S. for up to nine years. A J-shaped curve occurred. The lowest risk of death occurred among moderate drinkers. Thus, the researchers found that moderate drinkers live longer.52

• This study followed 123,840 people for seven years. Those who up to through two drinks per day had a significantly reduced risk of all-cause mortality.53

• Investigators studied 1,824 people aged  55 to 65 over a period of 20 years. Abstainers had a 51% higher risk of death and heavy drinkers had a 45% higher risk of mortality. That’s in comparison to moderate drinkers.54

• Doctors followed cohorts of persons aged 65 or older from three different states in the U.S. for five years. In two of the states, moderate drinkers had a much lower risk of all-cause mortality than did abstainers. There were no significant differences in the third state.55

• Researchers studied 802 adult wine drinkers ages 55-65. The clinicians categorized them as follows. (1) Abstainers, (2) high-wine-consuming moderate drinkers, or (3) low-wine-consuming moderate drinkers. Both high-wine-consumption and low-wine-consumption moderate drinkers had much lower mortality risks compared with abstainers.56

Danish Study
drinkers live longer

Danish Flag

• Doctors studied middle-aged and elderly Danes (n = 16,304) aged 50 or over for a mean of 11.5 years. Moderate drinking by both men and women reduced their risk of death greatly. But men who had over 10 drinks per day had an increase in risk. And women who had over over four per day also suffered an increased risk.57

• Danish doctors studied 13,285 persons 30 to 79  followed-up after 10 to 12 years. A U-shaped pattern existed between alcohol and all-cause mortality.58

• This  study involved 1,071 Germans aged 45-64 at baseline. The follow-up was eight years later. Researchers found a U-shaped pattern between drinking and risk of all-cause death. Moderate drinkers significantly lower risks which persisted after adjusting for confounding factors.60

• Researchers followed a cohort of 1,332 persons aged 65 and older for 12 years. Compared with abstainers, moderate drinkers without chronic heart failure were at lower risk of all-cause mortality. Increased risk occurred among  those with the disease.61

Australian Study

• Australian clinicians followed 1,236 men and 1,569 women for an average of 77 months. A U-shaped pattern existed between alcohol and risk of all-cause mortality. The lowest risk was among men who had over four drinks per day. Women who had up to two drinks per day had the lowest risk.62

• Researchers followed a total of 2,171 Australians aged 40 or older for 23 years. Compared with abstainers, moderate drinkers had a 24% reduced risk of all-cause mortality. Most (77%) of the non-drinkers had been life-long abstainers. And most of the rest had been long-time abstainers.63

• Physicians Followed for 20 years 11,920 Danes. Low alcohol consumption did not reduce the risk of all-cause mortality compared to abstainers.64

drinkers live longer

Chinese Flag

• Investigators tracked a cohort of 54,167 older persons in Hong Kong for a mean of 4.1 years. Moderately drinking men and women drinkers had much lower risks of all-cause mortality than did lifetime abstainers. This held only for those in good health.65

• Researchers followed articipants (n = 4,747) for 22 years. Men who drank had lower all-cause mortality than those who didn’t. Drinking by women had no impact on risk of death.66

• There was little effect of drinking alcohol on the total mortality among  8,187 persons in the U.S.67

California Study

• Doctors followed for 15 years a sample of 6,928 Californians. Men who abstained had a higher risk of all-cause mortality than light and moderate drinkers. However, there was no difference for women.68

•  Analysts tracked about 10,000 persons for up to 22 years. Compared to lifetime abstainers, only white men and women who drank in moderation had significantly lower risks of all-cause mortality.69

• British doctors tracked for 11 years 10,308 government employees aged 35 to 55  years at baseline.  They found a U-shaped pattern  between weekly volume of alcohol drunk and risk of all-cause mortality. Moderate drinkers had almost half the risk of either abstainers and heavy drinkers. Drinking only once a month or on special occasions led to a 50% increased risk of death.70

• U.S. physicians followed a sample of 12,519 adults aged 55 and older for about five years.. Moderate drinking led to a much lower risk of all-cause death.71

• Researchers made a prospective study of 1,869 late-middle-aged drinkers and former drinkers. Former drinkers had a higher risk of all-cause mortality than  light, moderate, or heavy drinkers.72

Large Study

• Data for this study came from 128,934 adults. A J-shaped pattern existed between drinking and risk of all-cause mortality. It was stable over a period of 20 years.73

• Doctors followed a large U.S. sample for 15 years. A U-shaped between alcohol and lower risk of all-cause mortality occurred among older persons. It did not occur among younger persons.74

drinkers live longer

Russian Flag

• Researchers followed samples of men aged 40-59 and women aged 40-69. They did so in both the U.S. and Russia for 13 years. Abstaining in the U.S. carried a higher risk of all-cause mortality than any level of drinking. In Russia, abstaining had a higher risk than one of three drinking levels.75

Conclusion: Moderate Drinkers Live Longer

Alcohol researchers conducted these studies around the world. In Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France and Germany. Also in Hong Kong (China), Italy, Japan, Russia, Sweden  the United States, and unspecified countries in Europe. The vast majority of studies conducted for decades report the same thing. Light to moderate consumption of alcohol significantly increases longevity.

In short, moderate drinkers live longer.

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Readings on Why Drinkers Live Longer

Rubin, E. To drink or not to drink. That is the question. Alc Clin Exper Res., 2014, 38(12).

Skovenborg, E. Nature’s medicine? AIM Digest, 2015, 40(3), 3-5.