For decades we’ve been hearing about the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Drinking a lot of alcohol is obviously not good for you. But some analyses show that people who drink a little alcohol seem to live longer and be healthier than those who don’t drink at all.
The Correlation Between Alcohol and Longevity
There are several possible explanations for this. The correlation between moderate alcohol consumption and longevity might have nothing to do with alcohol. It could be that people who drink moderately tend to have healthier diets and lifestyles than those who don’t drink at all. The higher death rate among teetotalers could simply reflect that people who are in poor health (and therefore more likely to die younger) are also less likely to drink.
Another possibility is that small amounts of alcohol might have beneficial effects on the body. For example, alcohol reduces the tendency of blood to form clots, which might reduce the risk of stroke.
As a society, we seem to have latched onto this idea that small amounts of alcohol are actually beneficial. This perception is helped along by the alcohol industry, which funds research designed to show that drinking is both safe and beneficial. Moderate alcohol consumption is often listed as a feature of healthy dietary patterns, such as the vaunted Mediterranean Diet.
But have we just been telling ourselves what we want to hear?
A new meta-analysis, comparing drinking patterns and life expectancy of more than half a million people from 19 different countries, finds that anything over 5 drinks a week is linked with shorter life expectancy and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.