Monday, August 30, 2010

Do Drinkers Really Outlive Teetotallers?

This has been a controversy for decades, with most studies saying "yes", at least for moderate drinkers.  Such a relationship is thought to be primarily due to reductions in cardiovascular disease.   However, methodological problems such as confounders and the "sick quitter" effect (not to mention the wrath of the neoprohibitionists) have hampered the ability to draw any firm conclusions until now.

A recent study found that, among 55-65 year olds at least,  moderate drinkers lived the longest, followed by light drinkers, followed by heavy drinkers, followed by abstainers.  You read that right--for some reason, even heavy drinkers outlived teetotallers!  This was true even after controlling for numerous traditional and non-traditional confounders, including smoking, obesity, sociodemographic factors, former problem drinking status, and health problems at baseline.  While controlling for these attenuated the relationship somewhat, it still remained strong, confirming previous studies that also found a U-shaped or J-shaped curve for mortality.  It appears that the ancient Greeks were right after all.

But before you go out and buy a bottle of Jack to celebrate, remember that there are several caveats to these findings.  First of all, the study only looked at 55-65 year olds, so attempting to generalize these findings to younger (or older) age groups can be problematic.  No health benefits from alcohol have ever been conclusively proven for people under 40 (though one study suggests that there might be some), and many (but certainly not all) experts believe that the well-known risks (dependency, injuries, liver damage, etc.) outweigh any theoretical benefits that may occur from drinking before that age, especially for heavy drinking.  People over 65 would likely show significant cardiovascular benefits from light drinking, but this age group can run the risk of falls and other injuries from drinking as well.  Also, there are many folks (of all ages, and we all know them) who really should avoid the bottle like the plague.  The fact that the study included only people over 55 means that it inherently excluded many severe alcoholics and/or drunk drivers who would most likely have died before reaching that age, and thus reduced the number of life years in the population.  Finally, the study failed to distinguish between different patterns of drinking--you should realize that there is a huge difference between having two drinks each night of the week (Continental-style) versus having all 14 drinks on a single night (British-style).  The latter is very dangerous indeed, don't do it!

While this study is not directly relevant to the drinking age issue, we feel that studies like this are important to show that alcohol is not an unmitigated evil like MADD and their ilk claim it to be.  Booze does indeed have a dark side that we all need to be aware of, but there are good things about it as well.

We at Twenty-One Debunked present this for informational purposes only and in no way intend this to be an encouragement for anyone to drink.  We are not a "pro-alcohol" organization, but rather we are pro-liberty and anti-tyranny.  But if you do choose to drink, remember that moderation is the key, and of course never drink and drive.

UPDATE:  Take a look at this review in the British Medical Journal on the apparent inverse relationship between light to moderate drinking and cardiovascular disease.

No comments:

Post a Comment