A slew of articles have been published in the wake of a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference panel talk suggesting that a couple of beers or glasses of wine a day can, in fact, be the key to longevity. But three experts who spoke with Men’s Health said the message needs to be reined in a little — and that the findings definitely don’t include binge drinking.
Kawas heads up the 90+ Study, which began in 2003 and includes more than 1,600 people who’ve lived to age 90 or beyond. The researchers follow “the oldest-old” — learning about their diets, activities, and brain health over time — to better understand why some people live well into their golden years in better health. The study includes some people who participated in earlier research that started in 1981, which also looked at aging.
“We found if in 1981 you were using alcohol, compared to people your same age who weren’t using alcohol, you lived longer,” Kawas said.
Duke cardiologist Dr. Michael A. Blazing, MD, told Men’s Health that the UC Irvine findings are from a study that looks at associations and does not prove cause and effect. “Association studies are good for generalizing and finding targets, but they’re not the answer to the ultimate question,” he says.
Blazing points out that other studies have suggested the same thing — that alcohol in moderation may be beneficial and is likely not harmful — but he says the findings don’t suggest heavy drinking is the answer to longevity.
“We do know that if you drink six gallons of Thunderbird a day you’re probably not going to live long,” he says. (Think you may have a drinking problem? Here are 6 ways to tell.)
Jim Becker, PhD, professor of psychiatry, neurology, and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said “moderation in all things” is the key. Too much can damage the brain, he adds.
“The data are generally consistent with the idea that moderate intake of certain kinds of alcohol, and in particular red wines, are associated with certain positive health outcomes. But that doesn’t mean that if you suddenly decide at the age of 70 to start drinking now that that’s necessarily the solution,” says Becker, who is also the associate director of the University of Pittsburg Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
In the U.S., a standard alcoholic drink contains 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, the amount in:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof liquor
Alcohol is a toxin, Dr. Steven Lamm, MD, clinical professor of medicine and medical director of the Tisch Center for Men’s Health at NYU Langone Health, points out.
He said there are many factors that can be at play in large observational studies, including a person’s sleep and diet habits, and their genes.
What would he tell his patients? “If a male patient said to me, ‘I am having two or less drinks per day. Is that okay, doc?’ I’d say it’s probably okay,” Lamm says, but after age 65, he’d advise one drink or fewer per day. He said he’d never tell someone who doesn’t drink to start drinking because of these or other study findings, or a current drinker to drink more.
“Do I drink? Absolutely. But if you look at the impact of alcohol on an individual or society, it is the most dangerous drug of all. This is an unbelievably dangerous drug and we have to be very careful when we come up with some kind of finding like this,” Lamm says.