New research suggests alcohol could be linked to a longer life expectancy, but you may want to hold off on that celebratory beer.
As news of these findings went viral, users let out a simultaneous sigh of relief, thinking they’d finally found the rationalization they needed to justify that third or fourth drink with dinner. The data comes from a project out of the University of California Irvine’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (try saying that five times fast!). The study examined the habits of individuals who lived to at least 90 years old. To the surprise of those conducting the research, results found that about two glasses of alcohol a day, and even a little weight gain, were related to an 18 percent drop in a person’s risk of premature death.
The correlation between alcohol and health has gone back and forth for years. On one hand, moderate alcohol consumption may result in improved cardiovascular strength and a lower risk of death for those with mild Alzheimer’s. Red wine, in particular, is often recognized for its resveratrol, an antioxidant that fights cellular aging.
However, studies published as recently as 2017 argue that alcohol may be connected to at least seven types of cancer. One study found that women who drank 14 or more alcoholic beverages a week (just two glasses a day) increased their chances of developing breast cancer by up to 33 percent compared to women who consumed four beverages or less. And the arguments in support of alcohol and cardiovascular health have been largely debunked due to what’s known as the “abstainer bias.” In fact, alcohol-related incidents are the third greatest preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The problem with relying on these studies to prove the nutritional benefits of alcohol consumption is that they’re observational. They’re efficient in recognizing patterns within a dataset, but not so much “cause and effect” –meaning no one can say for certain that alcohol is directly responsible for increasing life expectancy. The very research trending on social media also found that regular exercise and practicing hobbies were associated with longevity as well. What’s more, a well-developed social network could contribute to a sharper memory down the line.
Moral of the story: moderation. Studies have found that adults in their 50s or 60s who engaged in binge-drinking just once a week doubled their risk of dying over the next 20 years compared to men and women of the same age who drank moderate amounts of alcohol. Binge-drinking may also be closely linked to early onset dementia, with results showing more strongly in men (who drink more on average) than women.
So, you’re free to wash your dinner down with a refreshing beer without suffering any horrific consequences. Just don’t let recent studies fool you into believing a night of binge-drinking will add 20 years to your life. Much like the majority of what we consume, alcohol is complicated, so it shouldn’t become your only source of nutrition.