Monday, August 30, 2010

Nondrinkers’ death rates are HIGHER than most drinkers....

Today's Post: Monday, 8-30-2010

People who drink alcohol heavily die from car accidents they caused when driving drunk or less drunk and too tired. They drown when sober people would not. They die of cirrhosis of the liver and cancers they would likely not have gotten had they not drunk so heavily. They may get fewer heart attacks but may be more likely to die if they get one. They can develop marriage problems or mental decline or sexually transmitted diseases and die early from the effects of those things. They sometimes wind up bankrupt or serving long terms in prison due to the effects of car accidents they cause.

So, on the average, nondrinkers have a lower death rate than heavy drinkers, right?

Nope, the average heavy drinker has a slightly lower death rate than non-drinkers!

(Note that means that heavy drinkers who do it under control and responsibly and don’t do one of these crash landings, have a good bit lower death rate than non-drinkers.)

But , some have argued, non-drinkers include reformed alcoholics who have harmed themselves before becoming non-drinkers.

No to that too. Exclude those folks and non-drinkers still have a higher death rate than the average heavy drinker!


What about moderate drinkers, who by definition tend to drink responsibly and have fewer problems from being drunk?

They have the lowest death rates of all. They have death rates much lower than either non-drinkers OR heavy drinkers.

Today, Monday, 8-30-2010 TIME online had this story.

Their article reported research done by a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin.

Here’s a quote.:

“Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation, and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don't have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.

But why would abstaining from alcohol lead to a shorter life? It's true that those who abstain from alcohol tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes, since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status have more life stressors - job and child-care worries that might not only keep them from the bottle but also cause stress-related illnesses over long periods.

(They also don't get the stress-reducing benefits of a drink or two after work.)

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables - socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on …. over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.”

Here are the exact numbers.:

“Just over 69% of the never-drinkers died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died and only 41% of moderate drinkers died.”

And the article had this: “…. nondrinkers show greater signs of depression than those who allow themselves” to have some drinks.

My comments:

Separate research shows that drinking alcoholic drinks allows drinkers to get reliable, temporary relief from stress and depression. Given the negative effects these have on your quality of life and your health, that’s a very big part of this effect in my opinion.

The drugs that do those two things, that cost more, have far more side effects, and – sadly – are nowhere near as effective or as effective for as large a percentage, near 100 %, as alcoholic drinks are. Not a one of them works in a few minutes either. Alcohol does though! If and only if done in some moderation and done responsibly, drinking is also safer than taking the drugs.

Other research shows that drinking red wines, particularly those with a high saponin content such as zinfandels, pinot noirs, and burgundy, not only boosts HDL as all other alcoholic drinks do, but lowers heart disease and heart attack risks even more. (Dark beers and ales have similar extra beneficial effects as well. But for reasons of avoiding obesity need to be drunk in a bit more moderation.)

That said, note the huge advantage of moderate drinkers over BOTH non-drinkers and heavy drinkers.

For men, over 14 drinks a week or much over 3 drinks in a single day or at time does tend to move you into the area where your death rate goes UP, your other risks go up, and your risks of health problems other than heart problems such as cancer go up. I can attest from personal experience, that at least for men, you also get fatter than you would have been.

Also note that recent research found that people who drink over 10 drinks a week begin to have an increased incidence of mental decline.

For men, the sweet spot of moderation tends to be 4 to 10 drinks a week – one, two, or 1 and half per day. (Where in that range it falls depends on how much stress the man is under, what his other heart attack risks are, how alcohol fits with his social life, and what he can budget for alcohol.)

All these numbers are cut about in half for most women. Women are significantly smaller on the average than men; and for most women, it’s been found that they metabolize alcohol about half as fast as men.

So, moderation for most women is 2 to 7 drinks a week with 2 to 5 being optimal.

However, there are women who are physically the size of larger men and apparently metabolize alcohol as well as men do. I know one; and she can outdrink most men and has done so.

Petite men and women may need to drink less. And, men the size of pro basketball and football players may be able to drink a bit more.

So, the summary is that people who enjoy drinking and do it almost every week but responsibly and moderately under safe conditions live longest. They very likely also enjoy life the most.

People who drink more heavily but do it responsibly and safely and protect their health in other ways – not smoking and eating anti-cancer vegetables for example, come next.

Non-drinkers come next.

Heavy drinkers who do it irresponsibly and unsafely or who also smoke heavily and extremely heavy drinkers still DO come last and die soonest -- please also note. This research does NOT pretend to say that has changed the slightest bit.

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