Whenever anyone questions our penchant for starting happy hour at 4 p.m., we throw them a little side eye and say, “You know wine can help you live longer!” Well, it looks like we’re going to have to retire that factoid: A new meta-analysis (science speak for a study that looks at dozens of other studies) found that moderate drinkers don’t actually live longer than those who stay sober.
“This study challenges a most uncomfortable finding of alcohol research over the past decade—that moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at NYU. “What surprises me is that it has taken this long to dig deeply into the methods of those studies.”
The problems with the existing research stems from their definition of drinkers and nondrinkers. Moderate drinking is usually defined as an average of two drinks per night for men and one drink for women. (Females get the short end of the stick because they tend to weigh less and alcohol has been connected to an increased risk of breast cancer.) But many of the 87 peer-reviewed studies classified people who stopped drinking for medical reasons as nondrinkers, making the drinkers look artificially healthier. When researchers adjusted for this bias, the studies no longer showed that drinking added years onto lushes’ lives.
But there's no need to pack up your wine glasses for good. “Because drinking does not occur in isolation, many individual, social, and cultural factors contribute to the way that alcohol consumption relates to health consequences,” says Eun-Young Mun, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the Center for Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University. Translation: More research needs to be done before we even get close to saying moderate drinking is something to avoid. So pour yourself a glass—just don’t feel so high and mighty about it.