Most people want to live a long life free of senility or cognitive impairment. Are moderate alcohol drinking, senility, and longevity related? Does drinking moderately help people live longer and without senility?
This is an important question both for individuals and society. Advances in public health and medicine have led to large increases in longevity. And they continue to do so. The world population over age 85 may grow 350% by 2050. Therefore, we need to identify factors that can contribute to healthy longevity.
This would be beneficial in two ways. First, it would improve the quality of life among older people. Second, it would reduce the financial burden of poor health on society.
Research shows that, in comparison to both abstainers and heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers tend to live longer. It also shows that, in such comparisons, moderate drinkers tend to have better cognitive ability in later life. Therefore, it’s reasonable to hypothesize that moderate drinkers might also have both less senility and longer life.
I. Study of Drinking, Senility, and Longevity
Researchers tested this hypothesis about drinking, senility, and longevity. To do so, they used data from the Rancho Bernardo Study. It’s an ongoing cohort study established between 1972 and 1974.
At that time 6,339 (or 82%) of residents aged 30 and older in Rancho Bernardo agreed to participate. Rancho Bernardo is a suburb of San Diego, California. The main goal of the Rancho Bernardo Study is to assess heart disease risk factors. However, much of the information collected over the decades is useful for other medical research. That includes the research reported here.
In 1984–87, 82% of the surviving participants (numbering 2,479) provided detailed information about their alcohol consumption. Researchers assessed cognitive function in 1988-92 and about every four years thereafter. The investigators followed participants through the end of 2013. Cognitive function was first assessed in 1988–92 and about every four years thereafter.
Researchers controlled or adjusted for a very large number of potentially confounding factors. These included many lifestyle and health characteristics. Researchers controlled gender, age, smoking, exercise, education, marital status, self-perceived health, metabolic syndrome, body mass index, and waist-hip ratio. They considered the number of co-morbidities and medications.
Naturally they included the history of CVD, liver disease, stroke, diabetes, TIA, cancer, hypertension, and depression. Finally they controlled for the results of blood tests such as HDL-C, LDL-C, Triglycerides, SBP, DBP, GGT, AST, and ALT.
In sum, the researchers were able to study alcohol drinking, senility, and longevity among 1,344 community-dwelling older adults.
In comparison to nondrinkers, moderate and heavy drinkers both had greater chance of living to age 85 without cognitive impairment. Specifically, they had double the chance. In addition, frequent drinkers had an even better chance of reaching that desirable status.
Also, it’s very important that these associations remained after adjustment for the many factors, among others, listed above. Thus, the results can’t be “explained away” with alternative explanations.
Richard, E., et al. Alcohol intake and cognitively healthy longevity in community-dwelling adults. The Rancho Bernardo Study. J Alzheimers Dis, 2017, 59(3), 803-814. This research was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Aging. It also received support from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
IV. Resources on Drinking, Senility, and Longevity
Fife, B. Stop Alzheimers Now. Colorado Springs: Piccadilly, 2016,
Films Media. Preventing Dementia. NY: Films Media Group, 2016. (Video)
Flanagan, R. Longevity Made Simple. How to Add 20 Good Years to Your Life. Lessons from Decades of Research. Denver: Williams Clark, 2007.
Null, G. Reboot your Brain. NY: Skyhorse, 2013.
Pearl, R. Alcohol and Longevity. NY: Arno, 1981. (Reprint of pioneering book from 1925.)
Katz, R. and Edelson, M. The Longevity Kitchen. Berkeley : Ten Speed, 2013.
Smith, T. Reducing your Risk of Dementia. London: Sheldon, 2011.
Whallet, L. Understanding Brain Aging and Dementia. NY: Columbia U Press, 2015.
Bo, X. et al. Relationship of alcohol consumption to all-cause mortality in U.S. adults. J Am Coll Cardi, 2017, 70(8), 913–922.
Funk-White, M. et al. Alcohol use and cognitive performance. Age Ment Health, 2021.
Shen, Y. et al. Association of Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking With Cognitive Functions. JAMA Network Open. 2020, 3(6), 7922.
Skovenborg, E. et al. Benefits and hazards of alcohol-the J-shaped curve and public health, Drug Alco Today, 2021, 21(1),54-69.
Van den Brandt, P. and Brandts, L. Alcohol consumption in later life and reaching longevity. Age Age, 2020, 49(3), 395–402.
Zhang, Y. et al. Association between alcohol consumption in midlife and cognitive function in old age. Nut Meta Cardio Dis, 2021, 31(11), 3044-3053.