GREIFSWALD, Germany — Does a glass of wine a day keep the grim reaper away? Probably not, according to a new study. Researchers from University Medicine Greifswald report that higher rates of death among non-drinkers are likely due to various other influential factors. In other words, there is little to no scientific evidence that drinking alcohol in moderation helps you live longer.
Prior work had reported an increased mortality risk among non-drinkers in comparison to those who drink moderately. However, the new study finds that other factors among non-drinkers such as previous alcohol or drug problems, daily smoking habits, and overall poor health may partially explain their shorter lives.
This new work is based on a dataset of 4,038 Germans who had taken part in a standardized interview between 1996 and 1997. At that time, all subjects were between the ages of 18 and 64 years-old. Researchers also had access to baseline information on each person’s alcohol and lifestyle habits in the 12 months prior to the interview, and the team tracked mortality outcomes over the next 20 years.
No alcohol? No problem
Just over 11 percent (447) participants had completely abstained from alcohol during the 12 months prior to the interviews. Among those non-drinkers, 405 (90.60%) were former alcohol drinkers and 322 (72.04%) exhibited at least one or more additional risk factor for higher mortality rates. Examples of such extra risk factors include a former alcohol use disorder or risky alcohol consumption patterns (35.40%), smoking every day (50%), or fair to poor self-rated health scores (10.51%).
Meanwhile, the other 125 non-drinkers who did not display any additional risk factors didn’t actually show any statistically significant differences in regards to total, cardiovascular or cancer mortality rates in comparison to low to moderate alcohol consumers. Moreover, lifelong non-drinkers had a hazard ratio 1.64 times higher than the norm in comparison to moderate alcohol drinkers after adjusting for age, sex and tobacco smoking.
“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,” study authors write in a media release. “The findings speak against recommendations to drink alcohol for health reasons.”
“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. We 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,” concludes study author Ulrich John.
The study is published in the journal PLoS Medicine.