Here is yet another study showing that moderate drinkers have greater longevity than non-drinkers, and it pokes at the same vexing question - is it the drinking that brings about the health benefit, or are other things associated with both better health and drinking?
The first study to show that moderate drinkers live longer than either teetotalers or heavy drinkers was published in 1923. But the jury is still out on whether moderate drinkers are simply healthier overall than non-drinkers, or if alcohol itself used in moderation does benefit health, Lee and colleagues note.
They investigated the role of two risk factors associated with mortality that, to their knowledge, have not been studied together: functional disability and(SES).
They looked at 12,519 men and women, aged 55 and older, enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. During four years of follow-up, 14% of the non-drinkers died, compared to 7% of moderate drinkers and 12% of people who consumed three or more drinks daily.
According to Lee and colleagues, people who had a drink a day had a significantly higher socioeconomic status than non-drinkers, as measured by income, wealth, and years of education. For example, 37% of drinkers had a college education, compared to 14% of non-drinkers, and 52% of drinkers had $300,000 in assets, while 21% of non-drinkers did.
Hmm, drink your way to health and wealth!
After the researchers adjusted for traditional risk factors such as illness, smoking and obesity, the moderate drinkers were still 43% less likely to die during follow up. Once the researchers adjusted for SES and disability, the lower death risk for moderate drinkers compared to non-drinkers shrank to 28%.
"The results significantly strengthen the evidence that moderate drinking leads to lower rates of overall mortality," the researchers write. But, they add, moderate drinkers could have yet more beneficial characteristics not examined in the study, and it's possible "that adjustment for these characteristics could fully explain the alcohol-mortality relationship."