Drinking alcohol to stay healthy? That might not work

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In a new study from University Medicine Greifswald, researchers found increased death risk among current alcohol abstainers might largely be explained by other factors, including previous alcohol or drug problems, daily smoking, and overall poor health.

Previous studies have suggested that people who abstain from alcohol have a higher mortality rate than those who drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol.

In the study, the team used data from 4,028 German adults who had participated in a standardized interview conducted between 1996 and 1997, when participants were 18 to 64 years old.

Among the study participants, 447 (11.10%) had not drunk any alcohol in the 12 months prior to the baseline interview.

Of these abstainers, 405 (90.60%) were former alcohol consumers and 322 (72.04%) had one or more other risk factors for higher mortality rates, including a former alcohol-use disorder or risky alcohol consumption (35.40%), daily smoking (50.00%), or fair to poor self-rated health (10.51%).

The 125 alcohol abstinent people without these risk factors did not show a big difference in total, heart or cancer mortality compared to low to moderate alcohol consumers.

Those who had stayed alcohol abstinent throughout their life had a hazard ratio of 1.64 compared to low to moderate alcohol consumers.

The results support the view that people in the general population who currently are abstinent from alcohol do not necessarily have a shorter survival time than the population with low to moderate alcohol consumption.

The findings speak against recommendations to drink alcohol for health reasons.

The team says it has long been assumed that low to moderate alcohol consumption might have positive effects on health based on the finding that alcohol abstainers seemed to die earlier than low to moderate drinkers.

But their study found that the majority of the abstainers had alcohol or drug problems, risky alcohol consumption, daily tobacco smoking or fair to poor health in their history, i.e., factors that predict early death.

If you care about alcohol and your health, please read studies about Alzheimer’s drug may reverse brain damage from alcohol drinking and findings of alcohol drinking linked to dementia risk.

For more information about alcohol drinking, please see recent studies about which came first: brain shrinking or alcohol drinking? and results showing a new method to treat alcoholic liver disease.

The study is published in PLOS Medicine. One author of the study is Ulrich John.

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