Does Drinking Alcohol Really Help You Live Longer?
A study on 90-somethings found that drinking may be the secret to longevity.
This article first appeared in Shape.
It's only natural to want to make your life as long, happy, and healthy as possible. Immortality might still be reserved for sci-fi novels, superhero movies, and Black Mirrorepisodes. But in the meantime, we've got longevity!
Scientists have been researching the topic for years, linking things like your coffee habit and sense of smell to an increased chance of celebrating the big 100. Beyond the scientific research, we're fascinated with novel super-ager anecdotes: Look at Emma Morano, the 117-year-old single lady who swears her relationship status is the reason she's lived so long, or 110-year-old Agnes "Aggie" Fenton, who claimed her daily shot of Scotch and three beers were the secret to a long (buzz-filled) life.
The 90+ Study, a 15-year-old research program at the University of California, is specifically dedicated to understanding the magic of aging well: They're investigating why some people live past 90 and others don't. Claudia Kawas, M.D., a specialist in neurology from the University of California and one of the researchers on the project, recently spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Austin, Texas, about the latest learnings from their lab: that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol live longer than those who abstain.
Specifically, in their investigation of 1,700 nonagenarians (that's people ages 90 to 99), the researchers found that those who consumed approximately two glasses of beer or wine a day were 18 percent less likely to die prematurely.
Does Drinking Alcohol Really Make You Live Longer?
Hate to burst your bubble, but probs not.
"It's important to understand the difference between link/correlation and causation. Cigarettes cause cancer. Alcohol does not cause longevity," says Nina Shapiro, M.D., a professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and author of HYPE: A Doctor's Guide to Medical Myths, Exaggerated Claims, and Bad Advice—How to Tell What's Real and What's Not (out in May 2018).
So why are these 90-year-olds who drink living longer? "People who are drinking lightly are probably also eating a healthy diet, getting exercise, sleeping well, and having a fuller life. It's hard to tease out which behavior is the key," says Dr. Shapiro.
Sorry, downing a glass of pinot isn't like popping a magic, anti-aging multivitamin. Rather, people who drink moderately may also engage in other healthy behaviors that could lengthen their life span. For example, people often have a drink or two in social situations, and having a poppin' social life has been linked to longevity. Women who drink moderately (in this case, four to seven drinks per week) are more likely to exercise regularly, which is also linked to a longer and healthier life. Chronic stress, as you probably know, is a nemesis of health and has been linked to an increased risk of early death—meanwhile, red wine has been shown in some research to help decrease stress levels. (Thanks to the antioxidant compound resveratrol, which has been touted for its anti-aging and cell-rebuilding properties.)
Even more important to note, though, is the fact that heavy drinking—even just three glasses of alcohol per day or more—is linked to a much higher risk of liver cancer, says Dr. Shapiro, and is definitely detrimental to both short- and long-term health. And that includes heavy drinking on fewer occasions: You're much worse off drinking 10 drinks in two days than drinking the same amount over the course of a whole week, she says. (More: How Bad Is Binge Drinking Really?)
Real Ways to Live Longer
If a regular nightcap can't fast-track you to the 100 club, what can? "Regular exercise (and it doesn't need to be extreme), not smoking, limiting sun exposure, and wearing a seatbelt," says Dr. Shapiro. "That's a way better longevity tool than worrying about having two drinks per day." (Seriously: Just 15 minutes of brisk walking per day can add years to your life.)
The 90+ Study also found that people who spent two hours a day on a hobby were 21 percent less likely to pass away prematurely, while 15 to 45 minutes of daily physical activity also reportedly reduced their risk of an early death by 11 percent, according to The Independent. So go pick up a new, active hobby, slather on some sunscreen, and practice these science-backed ways to live longer—and, sure, have a glass of wine with friends. (Just don't finish the bottle.)