Tag Archives: alcohol

Drinking Levels and Mortality Rates

Des­pite the vari­ous and severe health risks that come with drink­ing, abstain­ing from alco­hol appears to increase your risk of dying pre­ma­turely. The reas­ons for this are not clearly known, but it is thought to be because drink­ers are more likely to belong to a com­munity (albeit one that drinks), and a feel­ing of com­munity is strongly cor­rel­ated with hap­pi­ness and longev­ity.

Even after con­trolling for nearly all ima­gin­able vari­ables — socioeco­nom­ic status, level of phys­ic­al activ­ity, num­ber of close friends, qual­ity of social sup­port and so on — the research­ers […] found that over a 20-year peri­od, mor­tal­ity rates were highest for those who were not cur­rent drink­ers, regard­less of wheth­er they used to be alco­hol­ics, second highest for heavy drink­ers and low­est for mod­er­ate drinkers. […]

These are remark­able stat­ist­ics. Even though heavy drink­ing is asso­ci­ated with high­er risk for cir­rhosis and sev­er­al types of can­cer (par­tic­u­larly can­cers in the mouth and eso­phag­us), heavy drink­ers are less likely to die than people who don’t drink, even if they nev­er had a prob­lem with alco­hol. One import­ant reas­on is that alco­hol lub­ric­ates so many social inter­ac­tions, and social inter­ac­tions are vital for main­tain­ing men­tal and phys­ic­al health. […]

The authors of the new paper are care­ful to note that even if drink­ing is asso­ci­ated with longer life, it can be dan­ger­ous: it can impair your memory severely and it can lead to non­leth­al falls and oth­er mis­haps […] that can screw up your life. There’s also the depend­ency issue.

The cor­rel­a­tions between alco­hol intake and vari­ous health out­comes (both pos­it­ive and neg­at­ive) is con­fus­ing and var­ied. A few things seem to be for sure: it can be good and it can be bad; no caus­a­tion has been proven; and the effects dif­fer between the sexes.

Update: I for­got to link to the pub­lished study (Hola­han et al., 2010)… the Res­ults sec­tion is the one worth per­us­ing. For those without full access to the study (ahem), Over­com­ing Bias provides the full list of con­trols.

Update: Jonah Lehr­er dis­cusses this study in an art­icle titled Why Alco­hol Is Good for You, emphas­ising the social side of drink­ing as the key to longev­ity.

Health and Alcohol Intake (Men, Women, Wine)

A lon­git­ud­in­al study of almost 20,000 U.S. women is show­ing signs that mod­er­ate alco­hol con­sump­tion (“one or two alco­hol bever­ages a day”) can lower the risk for obesity and inhib­it weight gain:

Over the course of the study, 41 per­cent of the women became over­weight or obese. Although alco­hol is packed with cal­or­ies (about 150 in a six-ounce glass of wine), the non­drink­ers in the study actu­ally gained more weight over time: nine pounds, on aver­age, com­pared with an aver­age gain of about three pounds among reg­u­lar mod­er­ate drink­ers. The risk of becom­ing over­weight was almost 30 per­cent lower for women who con­sumed one or two alco­hol bever­ages a day, com­pared with non­drink­ers. […]

The link between con­sump­tion of red wine and less weight gain was par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced. […] Some stud­ies have sug­ges­ted that res­veratrol, a com­pound present in grapes and red wine, appears to inhib­it the devel­op­ment of fat cells and to have oth­er anti­obesity prop­er­ties.

The art­icle also notes that while mod­er­ate alco­hol con­sump­tion has been asso­ci­ated with “bet­ter heart health”, it has also been asso­ci­ated with an increase in breast can­cer risk.

None of this is good news for men:

Stud­ies sug­gest that drink­ing alco­hol has dif­fer­ent effects on eat­ing habits among men and women. Men typ­ic­ally add alco­hol to their daily cal­or­ic intake, where­as women are more likely to sub­sti­tute alco­hol for food. […]

In addi­tion, there may be dif­fer­ences in how men and women meta­bol­ize alco­hol. Meta­bol­ic stud­ies show that after men drink alco­hol, they exper­i­ence little if any meta­bol­ic change. But alco­hol appears to slightly speed up a woman’s meta­bol­ism.

As before: this is still cor­rel­at­ory, but inter­est­ing non­ethe­less.

Alcohol in Moderation: Not So Good, Maybe

Mod­er­ate alco­hol intake has long been lauded as an ingredi­ent of the healthy life­style; being good for your heart and your longev­ity.

Accord­ing to a grow­ing num­ber of vocal psy­cho­lo­gists, how­ever, stud­ies show­ing health bene­fits from mod­er­ate alco­hol con­sump­tion are purely cor­rel­at­ory and any advice com­ing from them should be taken with cau­tion.

From an epi­demi­olo­gist at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion:

The bot­tom line is there has not been a single study done on mod­er­ate alco­hol con­sump­tion and mor­tal­ity out­comes that is a ‘gold stand­ard’ kind of study — the kind of ran­dom­ized con­trolled clin­ic­al tri­al that we would be required to have in order to approve a new phar­ma­ceut­ic­al agent in this coun­try.

[Mod­er­ate drink­ers and abstain­ers] are so dif­fer­ent that they simply can­not be com­pared. Mod­er­ate drink­ers are health­i­er, wealth­i­er and more edu­cated, and they get bet­ter health care, even though they are more likely to smoke. They are even more likely to have all of their teeth, a mark­er of well-being.

In fact, even the ori­gin­al research­er whose “land­mark study [found] that mem­bers of the Kais­er Per­man­ente health care plan who drank in mod­er­a­tion were less likely to be hos­pit­al­ized for heart attacks than abstain­ers” has since dis­covered that even mod­er­ate alco­hol con­sump­tion may increase hyper­ten­sion.