Celebrating your 90th birthday is an impressive feat, and a team of researchers from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands has found a potential secret weapon for reaching that milestone. Their study found that men and women who enjoyed an average of one alcoholic beverage per day had a higher probability of reaching age 90 than abstainers and heavy drinkers.
The study, published in Age and Ageing, analyzed data from the Netherlands Cohort Study (NLCS), which collected health questionnaire data from 1986 to 2007 on thousands of participants, including detailed information on alcohol intake. NLCS participants born between 1916 and 1917 were selected for this analysis because of the group’s potential to reach age 90 by the end of the study. The total group of respondents consisted of 2,591 men and 2,888 women from various Dutch municipalities.
Dr. Piet van den Brendt and his research team utilized dietary assessments and a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) to analyze food and drink consumption, lifestyle factors and medical conditions. Respondents who had less than one drink per month were considered nondrinkers. Ex-drinkers were excluded from the main analysis to avoid confusion with nondrinkers.
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The results showed that 16.7 percent of the men and 34.4 percent of the women reached 90 years old. Moderate wine consumption was positively associated with longevity in men and women. Spirits were also positively associated with longevity in men, but inversely with women.
“Overall in men and women combined in the NLCS, the highest probability of reaching 90 was found in those consuming 5 to less than 15 grams per day of alcohol [0.5 to 1.5 glasses of wine],” the study’s authors write.
Although the results add to the aging longevity debate, they should be taken with a grain of salt. The study involves a fairly homogeneous population and relies on participants reporting their drinking habits. While the authors address certain biases in order to refine out the results, they had no access to data on lifetime alcohol consumption habits or socioeconomic data.
“Our study was aimed at measuring alcohol intake at 68 to 70 years,” the authors write. “Therefore, our study results are limited to alcohol drinking in later life; future longevity studies [would] preferably include lifetime consumption.”
Dr. van den Brendt emphasizes that these results should not be used as motivation to start drinking. They simply bring us one step closer to understanding the link between alcohol and life expectancy.