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Drinking Alcohol May Extend Your Life 548

Adolytsi writes "MSNBC has an interesting article on an Italian study on alcoholism. While the obvious notion of overconsumption of alcohol being detrimental to one's health is supported, apparently drinking it in moderation can actually extend your lifespan. A study on over 1 million drinkers and 94,000 deaths yielded the results: "According to the data, drinking a moderate amount of alcohol — up to four drinks per day in men and two drinks per day in women — reduces the risk of death from any cause by roughly 18 percent, the team reports in the Archives of Internal Medicine. However, "things radically change" when consumption goes beyond these levels, study leader Dr. Augusto Di Castelnuovo, from Catholic University of Campobasso, said in a statement. Men who have more than four drinks per day and women who have more than two drinks per day not only lose the protection that alcohol affords, but they increase their risk of death, the data indicates.""
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Drinking Alcohol May Extend Your Life

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  • Four drinks a day? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:15PM (#17317554) Homepage Journal
    Is that four drinks every day? Or is that up to four drinks in a given 24-hour period, from time to time? - i.e. four drinks on Saturday night, then several more scattered throughout the week

    Because I don't hink I'd consider four drinks every day to be "moderate" drinking.
  • Re:Legal age (Score:5, Interesting)

    by faloi ( 738831 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:17PM (#17317610)
    I still find it interesting that at 18 you're allowed join the military and die but you're not allowed to drink alcohol.

    To be fair, though, bars around military bases tended to not pay a lot of attention to specific details like age when shown a military ID (at least back when I was in). That doesn't make it any more legal, but at least we could still show up to morning PT drunk. Believe it or not, it's an even worse idea than it sounds.
  • Re:Alcohol + what? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sRev ( 846312 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:20PM (#17317664)
    Or, is it that the behavior of enjoying a drink or two a day is correlated with something else that extends longevity (e.g., having more friends, being more relaxed and less stressed, etc.).
  • Re:Can't drink (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:28PM (#17317838)

    I wondered if they remembered to take into account people who don't drink because of pre-existing health conditions that result in shorter life spans.

    Yes. Well, sort of. They normalized for dietary habits, physical activity, and general health as they correlate to drinking and it resulted in a positive correlation, but it is unclear from the summary I read if that is the number reported or a smaller positive correlation. I suspect the latter. This article about the study also left out the difference between the European and American data and results. For Americans, three drinks was the point where the numbers no longer provided a benefit, probably because Americans are more likely to drink all of it at once and without food, rather than with meals.

  • by vmfedor ( 586158 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:28PM (#17317846)
    Where I live, people still make their own moonshine in their basement. My manager told me that when she starts feeling a cold coming on, she'll take a shot or two of that nasty stuff at night and then wake up feeling great. But I guess when you're drinking stuff that is used for sterilization it's not surprising. :) However, I'm curious as to whether or not the "healing effects" are lessened if you don't manage to drink every day, sort of like when you stop taking antibiotics prematurely. Chock one up to good old fashioned redneck ingenuity. :P
  • Mod up parent (Score:2, Interesting)

    by John Jamieson ( 890438 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:42PM (#17318080)
    It is amazing(troubling) the number of studies that leave out the reason for not drinking. To read the article and not see any mention of controls on reason for abstaining raises BIG question marks in my mind.

    This would not just apply to alcohol. If there was a study on Caffine, I would want the abstainers not to have chosen to refrain. Why? if the caffine leaves them feeling bad enough to quit they are already tangebly different than the average person.
  • by WidescreenFreak ( 830043 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @05:47PM (#17318156) Homepage Journal
    The one thing that these types of articles always seem to do is to lump all types of alcohol together although there are several different types of alcohol sources. I'm not a connoisseur by any stretch, but I've heard from people who are in the medical profession that the body reacts very differently to different types of alcohol and that different types have different health benefits.

    As I understand it, and I have full confidence in the Slashdot crowd to let me know if I'm wrong, red wine alcohol comes from the sugar fermentation of red grapes and contains quite a bit of healthy anti-oxidants. White wine, on the other hand, contains far fewer anti-oxidants and therefore does not have the health benefits of red wine. In fact, the anti-oxidants entry on Wikipedia also makes this claim. Conversely, the alcohol in harder drinks like whiskey is grain-based alcohol that generally has little health benefits, not including its ability to wipe out the weaker brain cells. ;)

    Friends of mine who are very much into drinking and partying have said from their own experience that the alcohol buzz from sources like grapes is vastly different and impacts them differently than the grain alcohol in harder drinks. (Yes, I'm aware that the smart-ass responses to that almost write themselves.)

    But even a friend's mom who is a registered nurse got on his case one time when he got plastered from a combination of wine and spirits, claiming that, "Mixing those types of alcohol together is incredibly dangerous!"

    Again, as one not involved in the medical profession I can only make suppositions on all of this. But it does bother me how reports like this have a tendency of throwing around the generic term "alcohol" as though it encompasses all drinks when that should not necessarily be the case.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:03PM (#17318440)
    Fact, pure oxygen will kill you very quickly indeed. So by your conclusion taking in oxygen is bad for you.

    Yes pure alcohol is dangerous but MANY substances we depend upon are dangerous when consumed pure or in a too large a dose. You can even be poisoned by drinking to much water.

    The simple fact is that living kills you. The entire process of living is killing you. The oxygen intake burns up your cells, but without it they would simply die as well.

    Living is the balance between dying now and dying some point in the future. Yes you can stop yourselve from being slowly damaged by oxygen but the side effects will be rather severe.

    Same with all these alcohol and other studies that say a dangerous substance is somehow also beneficial. The trick lies in finding the balance where the positive effects are stronger then the negative effects.

    This is offcourse very hard because there are so many effects to take into consideration. Worse they also change. Say X extends your life by 10 years. That would also give the sideffects ten more years in wich to manifest itself. Put it like this, say that taking my new drug is guarenteed to make your heart explode. Bad right? At some point past your 600th birthday. Ah, not so bad now right?

    Could alcohol induced cancer only manifest itself in people who would have been death anyway if they hadn't taken alcohol? It is not just a case of what disease alcohol causes but also wether you would have even been alive to get them in the first place without alcohol. Except offcourse it is not about YOU but about Mr Statistic, you know the dude, the one with 2.6 childeren.

  • Re:Stats 101... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:25PM (#17318792)

    Correlation does not imply causation.

    Actually, correlation frequently implies causation. Much of science is looking at correlations and testing to find corresponding causations. Correlation does not necessarily imply a given causation. You are correct in so much as this study does not provide any proof that drinking will cause you to live longer. It was, however, normalized for several other strong correlations, such as medical conditions and dietary habits. If you're looking to live longer, drinking a few drinks a day may help or it may not. I think it's worth a shot, but I was going to do it anyway.

  • Re:Define "drink" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:34PM (#17318932) Homepage
    Yeast will happily die by itself if the wine is left to reach its natural alcohol level and complete fermentation (speaking this as someone who has brewed himself and has actually worked scientifically with Saccharomices Cerevisia). This means that taste, alcohol content and residual sugar will vary greatly from year to year and some vintages will suck. Australians (and Californians) as well as vineries in other parts of the world owned by them do not allow that as a matter of principle. They are geared to large scale production destined to supermarket shelves and they have to continue delivering the same product year after year. By the way Australians actually now directly or indirectly own large portions of wine production in Europe and force this tech down everyone's throat.

    The best example of such intervention is Bulgarian Mavrud. This is a relic grape which has survived the filoxera pandemic and is notorious for producing 4-5 piss vintages useable only for vinegar followed by one year which it produces the "nectar of the gods". Great wine, if you do not mind the really high alcohol content which in some years ran into the 16-17%. A vintage from one of those rare years could stay for 20-40 years in a cellar before starting to oxidise into vinegar without any extra preservatives. And it was a phenomenal wine. Was. Till recently. Now the vineyards which grow it have deployed Australian technology. As a result they produce moderate quality supermarket shelf style rancid horsepiss arrested at 13% which I find utterly undrinkable. It makes a good export to Great Britain though.

    I can continue with other similar examples from Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc where Australian tech has been used to make wines "behave". As a result wines that produce 1-2 good or even phenomenal vintages per decade and crap for the rest now produce supermarket quality piss every year. As one of my italian collegues says "Ribena Wine".
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:55PM (#17319230)
    This old chestnut keeps raising its head: Look at the Italians/Greeks/whatever. They have long lives. It must be the alcohol.... or maybe it's the olive oil... or fresh tomatos.... or yogurt...

    Truth is that people's lives are a combination of so many factors that singling out one factor is pretty pointless.

  • Re:Define "drink" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @06:59PM (#17319262) Homepage Journal
    There are plenty of studies which reach this conclusion - a bit of red whine is actually good for your health. IMO, what they miss is that it has to be real red wine, ...

    Actually, studies like this go back at least 30 years, and their results are a bit more complex.

    The first big one I remember reading about was in the mid 70's, in the UK. It was a massive "data dredging" study of medical records, looking for things correlated (negatively or positively) with long life.

    They reported that the strongest correlation was with "moderate alcohol consumption", which was about the same as in this study - 3 or 4 drinks per day, where "drink" was somewhat fuzzily defined as whatever the records listed as a "glass". They reported that drunkards didn't do so well, but teetotalers didn't do a lot better, and the ones who lived longest were those who regularly consumed moderate amounts of alcohol.

    They did have a few more details. Those who drank only distilled booze didn't benefit as much as those who drank beer or wine (but they did benefit). They had weak data showing that red wines and dark beers were somewhat better for health than the lighter-colored varieties. They said that drinking with meals was better for you than just drinking, and they didn't recommend having all four of your drinks all at once.

    Since then, quite a lot of research has given us a lot more information. Recently, studies have uncovered some of the reasons for the benefits of red wines, including the fact that not all red wines show the benefits. But again, further research is needed.

    My wife works with medical data a lot, and is constantly finding more studies of the effects of alcohol. She rather likes telling people about the latest benefits that have been discovered. And she comments that we just don't drink enough around our house. A few years back, she worked with a researcher who liked to tell people that his studies had been unable to find an upper bound to the amount of alcohol that was beneficial. He would add that he was just studying the effect of ethanol on the circulatory system, which is apparently not at all damaged by heavy drinking. He would also say that he couldn't comment on the effect on other parts of the body such as the liver; that was other people's research.

    Anyway, it's a complex subject, biologically, and the research isn't nearly done. But there have been a lot of studies, and we can fairly firmly recommend a glass or two of beer or wine with every meal. Well, maybe not with breakfast, as you might just decide to go back to sleep, so have that one later in the evening instead. Dark wines and beers are somewhat better than light, but if you don't like them, drink something you do like and don't worry about it.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @07:14PM (#17319418) Journal
    In the semi-Puritan US, where the government and talking heads really hate to say anything positive about alcohol, I take theories about polyphenols and flavenoids to largely be an attempt to conceal the conclusion that many studies keep pointing to. Namely, that there's benefit from alcohol consumption. And not just moderate (by US standards) consumption, but frequent consumption (moderate by European standards). The studies keep showing it, but the govt and talking heads still keep talking about alcohol like it's a bad thing and continue to say that there's no reason to increase your consumption.

    Not that polyphenols might not have a positive effect; only that it's likely small compared to the positive effect of alcohol.
  • Re:Legal age (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @07:35PM (#17319644) Homepage Journal
    MADD is the only reason that the drinking age was raised.

    I hate those bitches. They're the one group with whom a reasoned debate is not possible, and to even attempt to do so hurts your cause in the eyes of the underinformed. You can't beat a woman who has lost a child.

    Look at how Cindy Sheehan was a media darling when she was doing her thing.

  • Soviets did it (Score:1, Interesting)

    by vuo ( 156163 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @09:24PM (#17320606) Homepage
    The Soviets actually did so. A standard daily ration of vodka was 200 grams.

    Reportedly, it caused signing the Internationale and chargingly blindly at the enemy.
  • by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2006 @09:56PM (#17320836) Journal
    Here in the US we have this thing called the drug war. You may have heard of it. One of the central tenants pushed out by the government propaganda machine (called the ONDCP) is that all use is abuse. There's no such thing as "harmless use" of any drug, not in the brave new USA at least.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.