Light long term consumption of all types – up to two glasses of beer or wine a day or two shots of spirits – extended life by around two extra years compared with abstention.
A 40-year study of almost 1,400 men found drinking a little alcohol regularly boosted longevity – with the biggest increase caused by wine.
Light long-term consumption of all types – up to two glasses of beer or wine a day or two shots of spirits – extended life by around two extra years compared with abstention.
The benefit was slightly less for those who drank more than this, according to the findings published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Men who drank only wine, and just under half a glass of it a day, lived around two-and-a-half years longer than those who drank beer and spirits – and almost five years longer than those who drank no alcohol at all.
The researchers said drinking wine was strongly associated with a lower risk of dying from heart disease, stroke and death from all causes.
Human nutritionist Dr Martinette Streppel, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said: “Those people who already consume alcoholic beverages should do so lightly – one to two glasses per day – and preferably drink wine.
“The cardio-protective effects of alcohol and wine only held up for light alcohol consumption in middle-aged men.
“Heavy alcohol consumption may cause accidents and diseases such as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, even though this was not observed in our study.
“Since alcohol consumption can be addictive, starting to drink alcohol because of its positive health benefits is not advised.”
Previous research has shown light to moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular death.
It remained unclear whether a specific beverage was linked with more benefit and whether the use of long-term alcohol consumption increased life expectancy.
So Dr Streppel and colleagues studied 1,373 Dutch men born between 1900 and 1920 who were surveyed in detail about alcohol consumption seven times over four decades, following them until death or until the final survey taken among survivors in 2000.
Drinking, smoking and dietary habits were analysed along with body mass index and the prevalence of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
The researchers found alcohol intake of less than or equal to 20 grams per day – one glass of alcoholic beverage contains 10 grams of alcohol – compared to no alcohol intake was associated with a 36 percent lower risk of death from all causes.
When the researchers looked independently at wine consumption, the associated risk reduction was greater. Participants who drank an average of half a glass of wine a day over a long period had a 40 percent overall lower mortality rate and a 48 percent lower incidence of cardiovascular death compared to the non-wine drinkers.
Life expectancy was 3.8 years higher in those men who drank wine compared to those who did not drink alcoholic beverages.
Dr Streppel said: “Consumption patterns usually change during life. This enabled us to study the effects of long-term alcohol intake on mortality.”
The researchers found the number of alcohol users nearly doubled from 45 percent in 1960 to 85 percent in the 2000 survey. The percentage of wine users increased during follow-up from 2 percent in 1960 to more than 40 percent among the survivors in 2000. Dr Streppel said a protective effect of light alcohol intake could be due to an increase in ‘good’ cholesterol, or to a reduction in blood clotting.
Furthermore, red wine consumption may have an additional health benefit because the polyphenolic compounds contained in wine have been seen in animals to stop the build up of fatty tissue in the arteries that can result in stroke or heart attack.
Dr Streppel said: “Our study showed long-term, light alcohol intake among middle-aged men was associated not only with lower cardiovascular and all-cause death risk, but also with longer life expectancy at age fifty.
“Furthermore, long-term light wine consumption is associated with a further protective effect when compared to that of light-to-moderate alcohol intake of other types.”