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Cheers! Drinking linked to longer life

Study confirms a few can help

By David Olmos
Bloomberg News / September 1, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO — Sipping two or three glasses of wine, beer, or cocktails per day helped older adults live longer than teetotalers in a study that confirmed the health benefits of moderate drinking.

A study of 1,824 adults ages 55 to 65 found that moderate and heavy drinkers were less likely to die than abstainers over a 20-year span, according to researchers at the University of Texas in Austin and Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Moderate drinkers were defined as those who consumed alcohol in amounts less than three drinks daily, while heavy drinkers had three or more drinks a day, according to the study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The results overcame a common criticism of previous similar findings about drinking and longevity: that the outcome was skewed because researchers included former problem drinkers with poor health in the abstainers’ group. The Texas and Stanford authors said they found that even after excluding results from past problem drinkers, and from people with poor health status such as obesity, moderate drinkers still lived longer than nondrinkers.

“Importantly, any health-protective effects of alcohol appear to be limited to regular moderate drinking,’’ wrote the study authors, who were led by Charles Holahan, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. “Heavy episodic drinking — even when average consumption remains moderate — is associated with increased cardiovascular risk.’’

Overall, older adults who didn’t drink at all had a 49 percent greater risk of dying during the 20 years of the study than those who drank moderately, the researchers found. Heavy drinkers had a 42 percent higher risk of death than moderate drinkers, the study found.

The results also showed that moderate drinkers lived longer than light drinkers, defined as those drinking an average of less than one drink per day.

One or two drinks may be beneficial, though “older persons drinking alcohol should remember that consuming more than two drinks a day exceeds recommended alcohol consumption guidelines,’’ and may lead to more falls, a greater risk of alcohol abuse, and side effects from medications, Holahan said in a statement.

The study is published online and will be in the print edition of the journal’s November issue. The research was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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