Drink a Little, Live a Little Longer?

Another study suggests that light alcohol intake, especially wine, boosts health

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HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 1 , 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Having just under a glass of wine a day cuts men's risk of dying from cardiovascular problems and all other causes and may help them live years longer, Dutch researchers report.

"Consumers who already drink should do so lightly, 1 to 2 glasses per day, and preferably drink wine," advises study co-author Marga Ocke, a researcher at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, The Netherlands.

Ocke and her colleagues presented the research at the American Heart Association's Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in Orlando, Fla..

Many other studies have shown that light to moderate alcohol intake is linked with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease in men and women, but whether one type of alcoholic beverage is better than another has been debated.

Ocke's team evaluated 1,373 men, all part of the Zutphen Study, who were born between 1900 and 1920 and surveyed in detail about alcohol consumption seven times over 40 years. Zutphen is the industrial town in the eastern Netherlands where the men all lived.

The participants were followed until they died or until their final interview, taken in mid-2000. They were asked about their drinking habits, dietary habits, their body mass index (BMI), smoking habits, and whether they had suffered heart attack, stroke, diabetes or cancer.

Alcohol consumption statistics were adjusted to account for other risk factors.

Compared to no drinking, light alcohol intake was linked with a 36 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 34 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease in particular. "Light" drinking was defined as less than or equal to 20 grams a day of alcohol (one glass of alcoholic beverage contains 10 grams of alcohol).

The reduced risk associated with wine drinking was greater than that associated with other alcoholic beverages. Those who drank about 1.5 ounces of wine -- about half a glass -- long term, had a 40 percent lower rate of death from all causes and a 48 percent lower incidence of death from cardiovascular disease, compared to non-wine drinkers.

Wine drinkers in the study had a life expectancy that was nearly four years longer compared to the abstainers. And wine drinkers lived, on average, more than two years longer than drinkers of either beer or hard liquor. Overall, men who drank a little alcohol of any type over the long term (less than or equal to 20 grams daily) lived 1.6 years longer than teetotalers, the Dutch team found.

It was difficult to tell whether the type of wine -- red or white -- made a difference. "In the present study, we didn't divide wine drinkers into red or white, but 70 percent of all wine consumed was red wine," Ocke said.

Ocke conceded that studies such as this have gone back and forth about which beverage is best, but she believes her study may have extra credibility. Most studies, she said, assume that drinking patterns are relatively constant. But in real life, patterns change.

In their study, Ocke's team found that the number of alcohol users nearly doubled from 45 percent in 1960 to 85 percent in the 2000 survey. Consumption patterns varied, too, which her study took into account.

Even so, Ocke said that more studies are needed to verify the results.

The researchers stressed that they only uncovered an association between light drinking and healthier, longer lives -- it does not prove that the drinking was the cause of that boost in health. Still, they speculate that the alcohol might increase so-called "good" cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or it might help reduce blood clotting linked to stroke.

The new study is "more comprehensive" than previous research, said Matt Kaeberlein, assistant professor of pathology at the University of Washington, Seattle, School of Medicine. The group studied was large, he added, which also lends credibility. "It gives you confidence in the statistics," he said.

Another study presented at the same conference had good news for nonsmoking coffee drinkers.

The study, by a team from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., evaluated more than 127,00 people who came in for exams from 1978 to 1985. Nearly 59,000 had never smoked. Researchers then looked at the more than 8,300 people hospitalized for coronary artery disease.

They found a higher cardiovascular risk for heavy coffee drinkers who smoked or used to smoke. Former and current smokers who were heavy coffee drinkers -- six cups a day or more -- had almost a 50 percent higher risk of coronary artery disease, they noted.

Coffee drinking was not associated with a risk of coronary artery disease in nonsmokers, the researchers said.

More information

To learn more about the health benefits of red wine, visit the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Marga Ocke, Ph.D., National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, The Netherlands; Matt Kaeberlein, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle; presentations, American Heart Association's Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, Feb. 28-March 3, 2007, Orlando, Fla.

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