Everything in moderation is generally a pretty good motto to live by. It is often the excesses that can get us into trouble. But that doesn’t necessarily hold true for everything. Many of us have long held the notion that alcohol is fine in moderation——at one to two drinks per day—but harmful in excess. In fact, enjoying a nightly glass of red wine has long been touted by the medical establishment as good for your heart. But now, new research suggests that even one daily drink might be detrimental to your health.
The study, which took place at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, found that consuming an alcoholic beverage or two every day is associated with a higher risk of premature death. These results are based on an analysis of two separate investigations into drinking habits that included an overall total of more than 400,000 people. (Note: this is the largest study ever done on the effects of alcohol on health and longevity.)
The first examination looked at data on 340,668 men and women between the ages of 18 and 85 who completed the National Health Interview Survey. The second focused on information collected on 93,653 individuals ranging in age from 40 to 60, all of whom had received outpatient services at a Veterans Health Administration clinic.
By comparing the subjects’ drinking habits with their medical records over time, the researchers discovered that the participants who reported having a daily drink or two were 20 percent more likely to die prematurely than their counterparts who only have an alcoholic beverage two or three times a week. So, the study shows that you don’t have to be a teetotaler to enjoy the advantages of a longer lifespan; you just have to avoid consuming alcohol on a daily basis.
Another consideration is that this 20 percent increase in mortality runs across all age spans from late teens into the octogenarian years. This means that the effect is more pronounced as we age. Or to put it another way, while a 20 percent jump in mortality is undesirable at any point, it is substantially less significant for someone in their 20s who has a very low risk of dying than for someone in their 70s who is at a much greater risk of dying from numerous causes.
In fact, in this research, it appears that the risk of early death related to drinking is primarily precipitated by an elevated risk of developing cancer. This is very much in line with the findings of earlier studies, which have linked alcohol consumption to a variety of cancers including breast cancer, liver cancer, and stomach cancer. And while the current research did not find as much of a connection between drinking and cardiovascular disease, a 2017 study at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada showed that people who drink one to two alcoholic beverages daily do not have a lower risk of heart disease as they age.
While the current investigation did not prove that drinking everyday cuts short your lifespan, it did provide evidence of a strong association between the two. And it seems that the evidence is piling up in favor of abstinence, or at least only having a drink on occasion. Yes, there have been studies showing heart benefits of alcohol consumption, particularly when drinking red wine. But lately, more research has suggested that the health dangers of alcohol are far greater than its benefits. In fact, studies have found that drinking causes one in 25 deaths worldwide and up to six percent of disability worldwide.
Ultimately, no one is saying you should never let another drop of alcohol cross your lips again. But if you tend to enjoy that nightly drink with dinner or afterward, pare it down to only a couple of times a week. And if red wine is your drink of choice because you want more of the antioxidants it offers, try increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables instead. You’ll end up with a wider range of beneficial nutrients and avoid the heavy metal and pesticide consumption associated with wine as well as premature death.