Drink alcohol for a longer life, say scientists, just not too much

Moderate drinking is associated with a longer lifespan in just about every population ever studied, says Dr. Claudia Kawas, professor of neurology at the University of California, Irvine.

If you're a certain age, you'll remember this lesson from biology class: the adult brain is fully formed at age 20, and each drink of alcohol kills one thousand neurons that can never be replaced. Science then discouraged drinking. But today's science is much better!


It turns out that moderate drinking—a few beers, wines, or cocktails each week—is associated with a longer lifespan in just about every population ever studied, says Dr. Claudia Kawas, professor of neurology and associate director of the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders at the University of California, Irvine. 

Speaking at this year's meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAS), Dr. Kawas revealed some surprising new conclusions about the aging brain. Her comments drew primarily on the '90+ Study'—one of the largest studies of its kind—which has carefully analyzed over 1,800 individuals over the age of 90. Kawas spoke at a panel called "Why Some Older Adults Keep Memory and Brain Functions in Tact".

Once rare, individuals living into very old age are increasingly common. "All the children born today in the United States can expect to live until the age of 103," said Kawas, recalling how President Nixon would write centenarians a personal letter on their 100th birthday (a practice that is no longer sustainable).

"The sad part about this," said Kawas, "is we've added more years than we've added quality." Of individuals who reach 90 years of age, one-third have dementia, one-third have less severe cognitive decline, and one-third maintain excellent cognitive and motor skills. But what accounts for the variation? And can we use our knowledge to age better and more slowly? 

On the topic of alcohol, Kawas referenced one illustrative cohort of the '90+ Study' composed of 14,000 individuals who were drinking alcohol at least as early as 1981. That cohort demonstrated that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a longer lifespan. "I have no explanation for it," said Kawas, "but I do firmly believe that modest drinking is associated with longevity."

Longevity and cognitive ability, however, are two different things. Exercise, not alcohol, is associated with lower instances of dementia. And while there is a strong association between physical activity and staying mentally sharp, the causal relationship remains undefined. 

As for those biology lessons about the static brain and how alcohol permanently kills neurons, Kawas said: "Now we know how completely wrong we were about that."

--

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less