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Are Coffee and Alcohol the Fountain of Youth?

Many seniors who consume coffee and alcohol in moderation live into their 90s. Should you be drinking coffee, wine or beer yourself?

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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