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."

--

The 4 types of thinking talents: Analytic, procedural, relational and innovative

Understanding thinking talents in yourself and others can build strong teams and help avoid burnout.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to collaborate within a team and identify "thinking talent" surpluses – and shortages.
  • Angie McArthur teaches intelligent collaboration for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Herodotus’ mystery vessel turns out to have been real

Archeologists had been doubtful since no such ship had ever been found.

(Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)
Surprising Science
  • In 450 BCE, Greek historian Herodotus described a barge that's never been found.
  • When the ancient port of Thonis-Heracleion was discovered, some 70 sunken ships were found resting in its waters.
  • One boat, Ship 17, uncannily matches the Herodotus' description.
Keep reading Show less

Horseshoe crabs are drained for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

Credit: Business Insider (video)
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less

Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan: The gender paradox and the importance of competition

The Canadian professor has been on the Joe Rogan Experience six times. There's a lot of material to discuss.

Personal Growth
  • Jordan Peterson has constantly been in the headlines for his ideas on gender over the last three years.
  • While on Joe Rogan's podcast, he explains his thoughts on the gender differences in society.
  • On another episode, Peterson discusses the development of character through competition.
Keep reading Show less