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Drinking alcohol to stay healthy? Study refutes decades of this assumption.

Doesn't prolong life: a glass of wine every now and then. | © Laura Schirrmeister, University of Greifswald

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The past studies situation was paradoxical: According to the finding, people who did not drink alcohol at all were to have a shorter life expectancy than people who occasionally drink a glass of wine or a beer. However, a study from Greifswald is now providing clarity: The shorter life expectancy of people abstaining from alcohol is because they used to have alcohol or drug problems, smoked every day, or had their health assessed as poor anyway. The new study has just been published in the renowned journal PLOS Medicine.

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“Previous studies suggested that people who drink small to moderate amounts live longer. For a long time, this led to the conclusion that moderate alcohol consumption could have health-promoting effects, especially concerning the cardiovascular system. We have now been able to refute this, ”says DZHK scientist and head of the study, Professor Ulrich John from the Department for Prevention Research and Social Medicine at the Institute for Community Medicine at the University Medical Center Greifswald.

In fact, on closer inspection, the shorter life expectancy of nondrinkers has nothing to do with giving up alcohol. On the contrary: many of the study participants who had not drunk any alcohol in the twelve months before the survey had, for example, an alcohol or drug problem in previous years. So their shorter life expectancy is due to past risky behaviour - not their abstinence from alcohol.

Formerly alcohol, smoking or drugs, now nondrinkers: three-quarters of those who recently abstained from alcohol had a health risk already

Researchers led by Ulrich John uncovered the fallacy with the help of information from a survey that they had already done in the 1990s: At that time, the 4,028 study participants were asked about their current and previous behaviour. Around one in ten had not drunk any alcohol in the twelve months before the survey. Of these 447, almost three quarters had previously smoked, were addicted to alcohol or drugs, or stated that their health was moderate or poor. More than 20 years later, the researchers determined how many of the study participants died and when - and with this analysis, they refuted the paradoxical study situation. Not giving up alcohol was life-shortening, but the unhealthy way of life in previous years.

The researchers also made another surprising discovery: in terms of the likelihood of death, people who drink alcohol in small quantities are no better off than people who do not drink alcohol at all - provided they did not engage in risky behaviour such as drug or alcohol abuse in earlier.

In other words: Drinking a glass of wine now and then does not shorten your life. However, contrary to what has long been assumed, it does not extend life either.



Publication: Alcohol abstinence and mortality in a general population sample of adults in Germany: A cohort study. John U, Rumpf H-J, Hanke M, Meyer C. PLOS Medicine 2021 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003819

Source: Press release from the University of Greifswald