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Many studies have found that people who are moderate drinkers - people who have one alcoholic drink a day - run a lower risk of death than both those who don't drink and also a lower risk of death than those who drink more heavily.
But many factors can affect your risk of death, or "mortality risk." These factors include: how many years of school you've completed, whether or not you have physical or mental health problems or disabilities, your income, wealth, gender, age, race, ethnic background, and whether you have social supports, smoke, or are obese.
Most of the studies finding that moderate drinkers run a lower risk of death have taken into account only some of these factors.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
To get a better sense of whether moderate drinkers run a lower risk of death even after these factors are taking into account, researchers studied nearly 13,000 adults. All were age 55 or older and had volunteered to participate in a major US study called The Health and Retirement Study. In 2002, the study participants were interviewed, and asked questions about their drinking habits, health problems, any disabilities they might have, their educational background, income, wealth, social supports, smoking habits, their age, and their race and ethnic background.
Four years later, the researchers then checked to see which of these participants were still living. By then, about 11% of the participants had died. Those who were moderate drinkers, however, ran a 28% lower risk of dying than the others, the researchers found. This was the case even after the researchers took into account age, physical and mental health, disability, weight, smoking habits, social supports, and other key factors that affect your risk of death.
"Moderate drinkers maintain their survival advantage even after adjustment for these factors," the researchers report in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Further research, including longer-term research, is needed to clarify the relationship between moderate drinking and risk of death, they add.
What Should I Do?
The researchers who conducted the study do not advise people who don't drink to start drinking. There are other things you can do -- such as eat a healthy diet, exercise, and see your healthcare provider regularly -- that can also lower your mortality risk. Drinking too much alcohol can be dangerous, and can, as the study confirmed, increase your risk of dying (your mortality risk).
The summary above is from the full report titled, "Functional Limitations, Socioeconomic Status and All-Cause Mortality in Moderate Alcohol Drinkers." It is in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 57, Issue 6). The report is authored by Sei J. Lee, MD MAS, Rebecca L. Sudore, MD, Brie A. Williams, MD, Karla Lindquist, MS, Helen L. Chen, MD, Kenneth E. Covinsky, MD, MPH.