Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Heavy Drinking: The Fountain of Youth???

I like vodka.  I like red wine.  I like white wine, and champagne, and margaritas, and anything that comes in a coconut, Buddha, or other interesting receptacle.  As such, I just couldn't let the Time article entitled, Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers?, slip by without a few comments.  

If you haven't seen/heard of this article, it's a short summary of a recently published study that looked at the relationship between alcoholic beverage intake and death in a group of people that were between the ages of 55 and 65 at the start of the study. So basically, in 1990 they asked these folks some basic demographic info and how much they normally drink, and then collected death certificates over the next 20 years (seriously). 

They found a few interesting things.  Most importantly, they showed that moderate drinking (~1 serving a day for women, ~2 for men) was associated with a longer lifespan.  This is not new news.  Many studies have shown that moderate drinking is associated with a healthy heart and potentially lower risk of other diseases (like diabetes). 

What they did show that was a bit different was that heavy drinkers outlived the nondrinkers...but not by much.  Compared to moderate drinkers, nondrinkers were 51% more likely to die and heavy drinkers were 45% more likely to die.  I'd call this about the same.  But still, quite interesting, isn't it?

Of course, the question is why.  And the answer is not really clear.  It may be just that drinkers have a healthier lifestyle than nondrinkers.  [The number of alcohol-related running/triathlon shirts I've seen makes me believe this.]  Maybe they like to drink outside in the sun where they soak up vitamin D, which is also associated with a longer life.  It may be that the alcohol and the antioxidants in some alcoholic beverages improve the cholesterol profile or other cardiovascular risk factors.  It may be that people who are drinkers tend to socialize more and it is well known that socializing, especially as one gets older, extends your life.

So what does this all mean?  Well, if you're a moderate drinker, it means keep at it (yeah me!).  If you are a nondrinker and happy with it for a variety of reasons (don't like it, can't stop at moderation, liver issues, don't want to drink in front of the kids, other), stay with it but consider incorporating other healthy lifestyle practices.  If you're a nondrinker because you think it's bad for you, there's no evidence to support that right now so don't feel guilty about uncorking that bottle and having a glass at dinner.  And if you're a heavy drinker, stop.  

And as of this coming Monday, I officially declare my "All Vodka Summer" to be over.  I'm breaking up with you for red wine.  It was good while it lasted.  It's not you, it's me.  I'll always cherish the memories...there's were so many good times.  I'll love you forever.