Moderate drinking which is - one to less than three drinks per day- cuts mortality among middle-aged and older adults, a recent insight has found.
The study that examined drinking and mortality during a 20-year period, controlled for confounding factors such as previous problem drinking.
"Although alcohol misuse is linked to many medical conditions, considerable epidemiological evidence indicates that moderate alcohol use is related to reduced total mortality," explained Charles J. Holahan, a professor in the department of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and corresponding author for the study.
"We expected that a substantial part of the health benefits associated with moderating drinking were due to confounding factors associated with alcohol abstention. For example, abstainers may include former problem drinkers with health problems and individuals who are atypical in terms of sociodemographic and social-behavioral factors that may increase health risk," he added.
"None of the studies that have examined the association of drinking and mortality and cardiovascular disease have been experimental studies in which a group of people was randomly chosen to drink a particular amount of alcohol or to not drink alcohol," observed Alison A. Moore, professor of medicine and psychiatry in the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"All have been observational studies, meaning those in which persons who consume varying amounts of alcohol are compared with those who don't. Because conditions in these observational studies are not controlled and the characteristics of persons who choose to drink varying amounts of alcohol or not differ quite a bit, it is impossible to prove that alcohol consumption causes reduced risks for coronary heart disease, diabetes or mortality,' added Moore.
"In other words, the association of moderate drinking and reduced mortality among older adults is reduced but still present when taking into consideration factors that affect both alcohol consumption and mortality," said Moore.
"For example, socioeconomic status has been a consistent factor in the link between alcohol consumption and mortality. That is, those with higher income and/or education are less likely to be abstainers and to die," he said.
Thus, the health benefits of moderate drinking are complicated because a number of underlying health risks are correlated with later life abstention, noted Holahan.
"Our findings demonstrate that abstainers were significantly more likely to have had prior drinking problems, to be obese, and to smoke cigarettes than moderate drinkers and scored significantly higher than moderate drinkers on health problems, depressive symptoms, and avoidance coping," he said.
"In addition, abstainers were significantly lower than moderate drinkers on socioeconomic status, physical activity, number of close friends, and quality of friend support and significantly less likely to be married than moderate drinkers. Moreover, all of these factors that were associated with abstention significantly predicted mortality," he added.
Both Holahan and Moore reiterated that any health benefits are linked to moderation.
The study will be published in the latest issue of Alcoholism: Clinical n Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.