Drinking Probably Doesn’t Help You Live Longer, Study Says

Past studies to the contrary may not have been accurate.

Health research is notoriously fickle, especially when it comes to nutrition recommendations. Demonstrating that fact is a new study out of the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

Researchers at the school are taking to task past studies that have shown that moderate drinkers tend to live longer lives than those who abstain from alcohol. According to their review of 87 studies focused on alcohol and mortality, it seems that regular alcohol consumption does not, in fact, have a positive effect on longevity.

The BUSPH team adjusted for a common bias in previous studies: the way alcohol abstainers are typically defined and grouped. Many studies term anyone who currently does not drink as an abstainer—which does not account for the fact that many people who chose not to drink do so because they have existing health problems, or perhaps because they previously struggled with substance abuse. Those with serious illnesses logically tend to live shorter lives, thus skewing the data.

After accounting for that nuance, the researchers found that moderate drinkers—those who have up to two drinks a day—did not seem to live longer than abstainers. That result was corroborated by 13 of the 87 studies, which did not use the standard criteria for identifying abstainers.

Even before adjusting the definition, the researchers found that it was actually occasional drinkers—those who barely imbibed, consuming less than a drink per week on average—who actually tended to live longest.

Earlier this month, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School published another study, theirs suggesting that drinking has both negative and positive effects on heart health. Taken together, the two studies reaffirm that alcohol is something to be consumed carefully, and is, unfortunately, not the health elixir you’ve been seeking.