October 14, 2009
Alcohol Helps Slow Aging Decline?

Maybe the moderate drinkers are likely to live longer for other reasons and alcohol doesn't help overall.

According a new study of over 3,000 adults aged 70-79, the apparent association between light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of functional decline over time did not hold up after adjustments were made for characteristics related to lifestyle, in particular physical activity, body weight, education, and income.

The authors of the study, publishing today in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, say this suggests that life-style related characteristics may be the real determinant of the reported beneficial effects of alcohol and functional decline.

“In recent years the relationship between alcohol intake and health outcomes has gained growing attention, but while there is now considerable consensus that consuming alcohol at moderate levels has a specific beneficial effect on the risk of cardiovascular disease, the benefit of alcohol intake on other health-related outcomes is less convincing,” said study author Cinzia Maraldi, M.D., of the University of Ferrara, Italy. “We wanted to evaluate this question over a long-term follow-up and with a prospective design, which most previous studies have not used.”

During a follow-up time of six and a half years, the researchers found that participants consuming moderate levels of alcohol had the lowest incidence of mobility limitation and disability.  After adjusting for demographic characteristics, moderate alcohol intake was still associated with reduced risk compared to never or occasional consumption, but adjusting for life-style related variables substantially reduced the strength of the associations. Adjustment for diseases and health status indicators did not affect the strength of the associations, which led the authors to conclude that life-style is the most important factor in confounding this relationship.

I suspect that some people derive a net benefit from alcohol while obviously many others experience a net harm from drinking it. Similarly, when it comes to lots of different drugs and dietary practices I expect the evidence will eventually show that the trade-offs between costs and benefits will end up having a large variable genetic component. For example, we differ in liver metabolism that some people will process and excrete a given drug really fast and others much more slowly. Also, how well drugs bind to active sites differs between people.

The cost of genetic testing and genetic sequencing has fallen so far so fast that we are now at the point where the floodgates are just starting to open for a torrent of research results identifying functionally significant genetic differences and how they matter for food and drug metabolism. Some of us are probably going to learn that we should drink a glass of red wine or beer every day. Others will learn they should rarely if ever touch the stuff. Ditto for various diets and drugs. Should you eat saturated fats daily? Or eat lots of statins? We'll probably know in 5-10 years.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 October 14 11:05 PM  Aging Diet Studies

Nick G said at October 15, 2009 9:44 AM:

This result makes sense. A similar thing happened with HRT - there was a strong correlation between HRT and reduced heart disease. Controlled prospective studies found that HRT caused harm, and that the correlation was life-style related.

PacRim Jim said at October 15, 2009 11:35 AM:

Alcohol makes you feel younger. At the very least, it allows you to forget you are old.

John Wake said at October 16, 2009 10:35 AM:

May fav in this group of urban myths is the "French paradox." The French are healthier than Americans in some respects so some crazy journalist says it must because... they drink more wine than Americans. Yeah, that's the ticket. Gee, do ya think the fact that the French consumed almost twice the amount of fruits and vegetables per capita than Americans might, kinda, maybe, coulda been a factor?

Swamp Rabbit said at October 16, 2009 11:51 AM:

Well, you know what they say,, there are a lot more old drunks than there are old doctors!

Big Bob said at October 16, 2009 12:11 PM:

For this slightly overweight (6'2" 198 lbs) 63 yr old male bicyclist (about 50 miles per wk) who also lifts weights twice a week the 2 Natural Lite tallboys every other night helps with the moderate knee joint pain much better than the Aleve or Motrin. Anecdotal, of course, and as with all personal opinion or advise, your mileage may vary. If there's additional benefit, so be it!

Pink Pig said at October 16, 2009 12:25 PM:

Well, it's kind of circular reasoning. If a later study shows that "lifestyle factors" have no effect on longevity, then we'll just have to go back to drinking. I think Ockham's Razor is appropriate: longevity is solely brought about by reduced stress, so whatever the effect of other activities on stress will turn out to be the only thing that matters. I'm fairly confident that sex and alcohol reduce stress, so as far as I'm concerned, there is no French paradox. I suspect that it is the people who worry about getting sick who end up getting sick.

Tim said at October 16, 2009 12:55 PM:

How many studies of a link between alcohol use and "health" actually measure alcohol use, as opposed to relying on subjects' self-reported use? Maybe people who report moderate drinking are healthy, regardless of how much alcohol they actually use?

Tom Ockham said at October 16, 2009 4:32 PM:

Reduced stress? As far as you are concerned is as far as anyone should be listening to your opinions about such a nebulous factor as STRESS. I'm fairly confident that one man's stress is another man's sex and alcohol, both of which increase stress hormones and what the hell are you talking about anyway?

I don't think even Ockham's nose hair trimmer is appropriate here.

Beck said at October 16, 2009 4:54 PM:

Still waiting for the research report demonstrating that bacon consumption cures cancer. I know it's coming!

nodakboy said at October 17, 2009 10:45 AM:

I know alcohol not only slows, but reverses aging.
After a few whiskeys, I take on the persona of a 14-year-old.

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