coffee and alcohol

Have you heard the phrase, “everything in moderation”? Ever wonder where it came from? Some trace this concept back to the Bible. Others say it originated with ancient Greek philosophers.

Regardless of where the idea arose, Americans aren’t very good at following this advice. We love “all you can eat” restaurants.

That becomes obvious when you discover that the CDC reports that over one-third of Americans are obese. More than 70 percent of us are overweight.

The Lottle Principal:

When it comes to drugs, Americans are also unrestrained. We call this the “lottle” principal. If a little is good, Americans seem to believe a lottle would be better. When the label on an OTC analgesic says one pill will relieve pain, many of us take two, three or four. It’s hardly any wonder that gastroenterologists have to deal with so many drug-induced ulcers.

Coffee and Alcohol Offer Benefits–in Moderation:

We fear that a new study connecting alcohol and coffee drinking to longer life could lead to the same ambivalence about moderation. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI Mind) wanted to know what lifestyle behaviors improve longevity.

Their 90+ Study has been tracking super senior citizens since 2003. Over 1,600 individuals at least 90 years old have been tracked every six months.

They discovered that

“People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained.”

Not surprisingly, the headlines have been enthusiastic. One stated unequivocally, “Alcohol and coffee make you live longer, finds almost-too-good-to-be-true study.” Another reports: “Drinking alcohol, coffee key to living past 90, study finds.”

What Is Moderate Alcohol Consumption?

What is missing from these headlines are the key words “moderate amounts.” Researchers often argue about what they mean by moderate. In general, that is defined as a glass or two of beer or wine a day. Others suggest that it is 10 or fewer drinks a week.

Anything beyond two daily drinks or more than 10 drinks a week could be considered excessive. Virtually all health professionals agree that too much alcohol is very dangerous.

How Much Coffee Is Moderate?

Coffee drinking is also a balancing act. A couple of cups daily have been linked to a lower risk of developing diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer and heart failure.

Too much coffee, however, can lead to caffeinism. Symptoms include anxiety, irritability, excessive urination, digestive distress, tremors, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure and insomnia.

Coffee and Alcohol Don’t Prevent Dementia:

One of the less publicized results of the 90+ study was the observation that

“Over 40 percent of people aged 90 and older suffer from dementia…”

Living longer is no blessing if in old age we cannot recognize loved ones or take care of ourselves.

Moderation in Coffee and Alcohol, as Well as Everything Else:

That is why moderation in all things is so important. Too much alcohol, for example, can lead to early dementia. That’s the finding from a French study of more than a million adults (Schwarzinger et al, Lancet Public Health, Feb. 20, 2018).
In excess, alcohol causes neurotoxicity. Alcohol can also deplete the body of thiamine (vitamin B1), and that lack itself leads to brain damage.

Whether it is food, alcohol, coffee or pain pills, Americans could benefit from the sound advice of ancient Greek philosophers. Above the temple of Apollo at Delphi was the inscription “Meden Agan.” It is translated as “Nothing in excess.”

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  1. Cindy B
    Seattle, WA

    This is all so funny. I follow 3 “doctors” on the web: Peoples Pharm, Dr. Mercola and Dr. Greger (he of the “How Not to Die” book fame). Also WebMD, but they hardly count since their advice is so bland and mainstream.

    Right now there’s a big debate going on over at Dr. Greger’s site re whether moderate drinking is healthy. Some say NO AMOUNT OF ALCOHOL should be consumed and that anybody who says moderate drinking increases longevity has been reading bogus studies. Others, of course, dispute that strongly. Both, of course, point to study after study supporting their position.

    Between Drs. Greger and Mercola, there’re similar disputes regarding coconut oil, eggs, any meat products at all, whether a ketogenic diet (heavy on fats) will kill you or help you live forever, and many other topix. Again, of course, both point to study after study…

    WELL, WHAT’S A PERSON TO DO?!?! It’s quite irritating, I’ll tell you that. I’ll cogitate on this further over a glass of red wine.

  2. Donna

    When discussing coffee consumption, the amount should be specified in ounces, not “cups”. Coffeemaker water reservoirs and carafes still specify a serving as 5-6 ounces, which probably is the volume of an old-fashioned china coffee/tea cup (the ones with matching saucers). Very few people use those; they use mugs which hold 11-12 ounces. So if you tell people 2 cups of coffee a day is beneficial, and you mean 12 ounces total per day, they think the 2 mugs of coffee they drink is fine, but that’s 24 ounces. Big difference!

  3. karin b.

    I think that the Europeans have it more right than the US: Without coffee and alcohol, who’d want to live to 90? So, moderation is good and not worrying about everything that goes into our mouths is equally beneficial. Americans are obsessed with thinking they can control longevity, and it’s just not that simple. Relax. We go around once, and it is to be enjoyed.

  4. LaRae

    I am an avid coffee drinker, in part, because I thought it was a healthy, albeit, addictive habit. I just finished watching a series about Alzheimer’s and dementia where the doctor, who studies brain disorders (he has looked at thousands of brain scans), unequivocally stated that drinking coffee and alcohol in ANY AMOUNT is NOT good for your brain! Yes, it is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

    • Sally B.
      North Carolina

      Did you research this doctor? Who is HE to make any determinations? I believe everything in moderation with the exception of any drug containing Codeine. That’s a killer. Damn near killed me after a surgery. For heaven’s sake, people, drink your two cups of coffee a day, and have a couple glasses of wine at night. This is all so ridiculous. My grandmother did exactly that and lived to 94. A LOT of this is genetics, ya’ know? I’m having a glass of Chardonnay as I write this, and if anything kills me, it won’t be the wine!

  5. Phil

    If long-lived people use alcohol or coffee in moderation, they probably have good lifelong habits too, such as eating well, getting enough sleep, exercise, and having an active social life. I don’t put much stock into single habits that point to long life. I like to be in control of my mind, so I go with the Danish study that says no alcohol is safe.

  6. Mary Jane

    “All you can eat” restaurants should be outlawed.

    • Santos

      You are spot on in your assessment most of these studies use such narrow parameters. We need to understand that overall health is a combination of lifestyle choices. Until we do this we will just continue chasing after the latest study on the food or supplement of the week.

  7. Walter
    Los Angeles

    Coffee and alcohol may not help older men with BHP (enlarged prostate). I’ve just begun a diet without alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods to reduce inflammation in my prostate, and it seems to help.

  8. NorthwoodsCynic

    The word PRINCIPAL should be PRINCIPLE. Another pesky homonym!

  9. Anne

    You are correct that this “motto” came from the Ancient Greeks. The phrase actually is:
    “Pan Metron Ariston, meaning “All Good Things in Moderation.” It’s total common sense.

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