Red or White? Or a Shot or a Pint?

Wine health benefits related to other health factors

(RxWiki News) Studies about potential health benefits of moderate wine consumption are everywhere - but new research questions whether wine is necessarily any "healthier" than beer or mixed drinks.

A 20-year study that takes into account moderate alcohol drinkers' age, health, tobacco use, exercise frequency and socioeconomic status found that controlling for these factors almost erased the advantage wine drinkers had over other types of drinkers in living longer.

"Enjoy alcoholic drinks responsibly and in moderation."

Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin Department of Psychology led a team that tracked 802 adults who were between the ages of 55 to 65 when the study began.

They classified the adults into three groups: nondrinkers, moderate drinkers whose alcohol came primarily from drinking wine (two thirds of their overall consumption), and moderate drinkers whose alcohol consumption only included up to a third wine.

Moderate drinkers were defined as those who drank one or two standard alcoholic drinks on average per day.

After 20 years, Holahan and his associates looked at those in the study who had died and compared the results to their drinking habits. Those who were moderate drinkers had greater overall life spans than those who abstained, and those who drank a greater percentage of wine lived longer than those who drank more beer or mixed drinks.

However, the researchers then adjusted the results for other factors that can influence a person's life span, such as their general health and life habits.

Overall health at the start of the study was measured based on whether the adults had experienced any one of nine different medical conditions, such as heart problems, diabetes or cancer, or whether they had experienced certain physical difficulties, such as shortness of breath, fatigue or chest pain.

The researchers also collected information on whether the adults smoked and their socioeconomic status based on total annual family income and years of education.

When all these factors were taken into account, those drinkers who consumed a lower percentage of wine tended to be older, be male, have more health problems, be smokers, be less physically active and have a lower socioeconomic status - all factors that also contribute to a shorter life span.

In other words, the adults who chose to drink more wine simply tended to be healthier and have more characteristics associated with longevity in the first place.

The researchers cautioned that their study does not establish that any alcohol consumption necessarily causes a person to live longer and that people should not begin to drink regularly with the expectation that it will lengthen their lives.

They also measured physical activity in a very narrow way by asking participants if they had gone swimming, played tennis or taken long hikes or walks with friends or family in the past month.

Those who participated in other physical activities besides these would not necessarily have been ranked as very physically active.

The study notes that people who cannot drink in moderation or who have medical conditions or take medications that would make drinking dangerous should not consume alcohol, and drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per day remains associated with increased falls and a greater risk of alcoholism.

The longitudinal cohort study appears in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs and was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Grant and by the Department of Veteran Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service funds.

No financial support or conflicts of interest were reported by the authors.

Review Date: 
January 3, 2012