Over 51.1 percent of the American population 18-years of age and over
are drinkers (having at least 12 or more drinks in a year). Statistics on abstainers vary, from 22.5 percent of men, to 11.6 percent of women. Somewhere in between those numbers are the moderate drinkers, those who consume about four drinks a day.
The numbers are enough reason to conduct a study on the mortality rates of the various groups of drinkers and non-drinkers. It's well known that drinking to excess can lead to diseases like cirrhosis of the liver, and several types of cancer, not to mention what it does to our brains. This leads to the assumption that alcohol can also result in a shortened life span.
Yet, just the opposite is true, based on numerous studies conducted over the years, and they all conclude that people who abstain from alcohol, the teetotalers, die sooner than those who drink in moderation. According to Time magazine,
Alcoholics Anonymous has an explanation. Those who take part in studies as abstainers are actually former hard-core drunks who have already incurred a number of alcohol-related health problems.
But surprisingly, a paper published in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
, detailed a study conducted by psychologist Charles Holahan and a team of scientists at the University of Texas at Austin, that showed people who drank in moderation lived longer that non-drinkers.
The study shows some surprising results
The tightly controlled study followed 1,824 people, ages 55 to 65 and lasted twenty years. It also took into consideration a number of variables, including socioeconomic status, physical activity, number of friends, as well as several other factors. The study was divided into three groups, abstainers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers.
Abstainers were identified as people who never drank, or those who had drank in the past, but stopped drinking. Heavy drinkers were defined as those who drank 4 or more drinks daily. Moderate drinkers consumed one to three drinks a day.
After 20 years, the study revealed
that moderate drinkers had the lowest mortality rate, while heavy drinkers actually lived longer than non-drinkers, who had the highest mortality rate. In percentages, 69 percent of non-drinkers died prematurely, compared to 41 percent of moderate drinkers. Heavy drinkers came out much better than the abstainers, with a 60 percent mortality rate.
What do the results of the study mean for moderate drinkers?
One explanation was alcohols ability to breakdown social barriers. Researchers called it a "social Lubricant." This plus the need for humans to have strong social networks to maintain good mental and physical health was reason enough to explain the need for alcohol. Another factor at play in favor of drinking was that non-drinkers were more inclined to suffer from depression as opposed to drinkers being more sociable, if not gregarious.
It was also the conclusion of the scientists that one of the added benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol, particularly red wine, also aided in maintaining heart and circulation health. This little fact brings to mind an article by Tony Edwards, Science journalist and writer in the Daily Mail.
Edwards wrote, and these are his words, that after reading thousands of papers on the benefits of drinking, he found that alcohol can stave off cancer, colitis and even the common cold. All this, in addition to its well-known benefits in helping to prevent heart disease, strokes, circulatory ailments and migraine headaches. It's eye-opening reading.
The scientific reason for taking a few drinks
It has been found that low levels of ethanol in the blood stream prevent the formation of formaldehyde found in some foods
we consume. Actually, ethanol is used as an antidote in methanol poisoning in the emergency room in many hospitals.
Naturally-occurring methanol is found in some of the fruits and vegetables we normally consume. It is also found that the artificial sweetener, aspartame, converts into methanol in the body. Normally, this causes no problems because the methanol binds with pectin, and is excreted in the stool, leaving none to be absorbed in the body.
Problems arise when we can or bottle fruit or vegetable juices, because the methanol tends to be released from the pectin, becoming free methanol. This the body absorbs, passing through the blood/brain barrier and converting into formaldehyde. You now have a very potent toxin, and this is dangerous.
Food scientist Woody Monte published a paper in the March, 2010 issue of Medical Hypotheses, called “Methanol: A chemical Trojan horse as the root of the inscrutable U.
” In it, he explained that:
“Very low levels of ethanol in your bloodstream would substantively prevent all formaldehyde production from dietary methanol anywhere in the body."
Let's talk about red wine for a moment. What is it in red wine that makes it a heart-healthy addition to your diet? It is an antioxidant
. It acts as a cancer-preventing agent, blood thinner and vaso-expander. It has also been touted as an anti-aging chemical. This still doesn't explain why the moderate consumption of other alcoholic beverages has similar properties, though.
Closing thoughts and a warning
Before anyone runs out to the liquor store, keep in mind that alcohol is considered a neurotoxin, and therefore a dangerous mixture. Another thing to think about is what it means to be a moderate drinker. According to the Harvard School of Public Health
, moderate drinking for a woman means one drink a day. For men, it increases to two drinks a day. Think about this, also, a woman drinking 2 to 3 drinks a day is considered a heavy drinker. Alcohol also increases insulin levels in the body, and in women, increases the risk of breast cancer by 40 percent.
The author of the study recommends that before you start imbibing, to remember that the study showed that small increments of alcohol gave the affects reported in the research, so this does not mean a person should drink a weeks worth of alcohol on a weekend. Keep in mind, too, that people have different tolerances to alcohol.
This article in not intended to suggest that drinking alcohol is good for you, or yo suggest that you start drinking. There are many factors in a persons life to be considered, and the best way to get the right answers would be to consult with the family doctor.