The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Drinking Alcohol and Coffee Extend Your Life?

Would you like to live into your 90s in good health? What are the key ingredients to successful aging? Could alcohol and coffee improve longevity?
Grandma celebrating birthday with her elderly son

Many people have considered a cup or two of coffee a necessary part of their morning ritual, even if a bit sinful. Ditto for a glass of wine or a cocktail at the end of the day. A new study suggests that drinking a little alcohol and coffee might have unexpected health benefits. Older people lived longer if they consumed alcohol and coffee compared to nondrinkers.

The 90+ Study

The oldest old are now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. It seems that if you make it to 90 you have a good chance of going and going…a bit like the Ever Ready Energizer Bunny.

Energizer Bunny

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO – SEPTEMBER 4 2010: The 34th annual Colorado Balloon Classic.

The 90+ study recruited members from The Leisure World retirement community in Orange County, California. Every six months these folks were visited and tested for cognitive and physical ability. They were also surveyed about their diet, activities, hobbies and medications. The investigators from the University of California, Irvine, Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI Mind) wanted to know what factors were important in facilitating a longer and healthier life.

The results from the 90+ Study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This research, which began in 2003, has been following the progress of more than 1,600 individuals who were at least 90 years old at the outset.

The investigators wanted to find out which lifestyle factors were associated with longer life. They also explored factors linked to cognitive decline.

Moderate Alcohol and Coffee Consumption:

What they uncovered was somewhat surprising. Moderate amounts of alcohol and coffee were correlated with improved longevity. Even more startling, modest overweight—5 to 10 pounds—was also protective.

UCI Mind Major Findings:

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

“People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people did.

“Over 40% of people aged 90 and older suffer from dementia while almost 80% are disabled. Both are more common in women than men.

“About half of people with dementia over age 90 do not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss.

“People aged 90 and older with an APOE2 gene are less likely to have clinical Alzheimer’s dementia, but are much more likely to have Alzheimer’s neuropathology in their brains.”

Hobbies were Also Protective:

People who spent time every day on a hobby were 21 percent less likely to die prematurely. Daily exercise was also beneficial. The investigators were not able to identify factors that would protect older people from developing dementia.

People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

If you do not drink alcohol, do not start because of these findings. If you do not consume coffee, do not start because of this research. There is no sense in changing your behavior based on this research. Remember, the longevity stats on religious groups that shun cigarettes, coffee and alcohol are surprisingly good.

On the other hand, if you like that morning cup of Joe and/or a glass of wine with dinner, you no longer need to think of them as sinful pleasures. We are also big on gentle exercise, especially if you are 90+. You do not have to run to get exercise. Walking is great. Even sitting and participating in chair exercises can be beneficial.

Don’t forget hobbies! If you like to knit or do crossword puzzles or play Bridge, good on you. We love hobbies that engage the mind and allow for interaction with others.

Dancing to Preserve Your Brain Power:

One of the disturbing discoveries of the 90+ Study was the high incidence of cognitive impairment: “Over 40% of people aged 90 and older suffer from dementia.” That’s scary.

We recently interviewed Dr. Joe Verghese, director of the Center for the Aging Brain at Montefiore Medical Center and director of the Jack and Pearl Resnick Gerontology Center. He shared with us his landmark study on how dancing could help reduce the risk of dementia published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

If you would like to listen to our interview with Dr. Verghese and Dr. Jordan Metzl on the benefits of exercise, here is a link. Click on the green arrow to play the streaming audio for free!

[Results from the 90+ Study were presented at the AAAS Annual Meeting, Austin, Texas, Feb. 18, 2018]

Share your own story on coffee and alcohol below in the comment section. Do you have a hobby? What about dancing. We’d love to get your perspective on healthy aging.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    Cuppa coffee in the morning, a beer in the evening (not too late: messes up my sleep patterns), 1 – 1-1/2 hour moderate workout 5 days most weeks, mow my own lawn (gotta start that again soon!), daily crosswords & trolling Facebook. I just turned 74 & am regularly asked what I’m doing away from the office. Life is good.

    13 years ago, I had chest pain and ended up at the hospital. I went home with a stent and 8 prescription heart medications. I was 80 at that time. I also had statin drugs on my list. 3 months later I was walking with my son and BANG, I could not remember a thing. I tapered off the statins and got my memory back. More side effects from other drugs. Last month I asked my MD if I could stop the last 2 meds and, knowing me well, he said “Let us try.”

    At age 93 I am doing fine, swim 2 times a week for 1 1/2 hour non-stop.
    No alcohol, 1 or 2 cups of coffee, NO MEAT.
    Took care of my son for 15 months, who got cancer. I was 24/7 on the go or at home.
    I had no chest pain or any thing else during that time.

    I am almost 79, never smoked nor used alcohol, walk 2 mi. daily w/ my 2 dogs & only med. is 150 of levothyroxine for hypothyroidism. I read, play solitaire, meditate, & care for an 83 yr-old several times a week. My mind is excellent. I have one concern, that is I am developing “face blindness” which I hate & is very embarrassing. Any advice?

    Age 74 and still going strong. Admit to about 5 cups of coffee a day since retirement but before that it was about 2 cups tea per day. I love my afternoon glass of red wine! Ride my bike between 15 & 30 miles each week (weather permitting) and almost always reach my 10,000 steps goal on Fitbit. Only med is antidepressant because recently widowed. Hope to ween myself off soon. Love art, gardening, cooking, reading and writing. Love music and dancing but don’t have a bit of rhythm (so, unfortunately, avoid). Am very spiritual but keep it to myself like I do my strong political opinions. Love life! Hope like hell to reach 90!

    Being a us marine veteran artist musician i take great pride in healthy lifestyle in conjunction with some participation of limited Coffee, alcohol and modest positive interaction with the society we live in. Health and above is a choice and privilege not entitlement. We are dealt the cards we manage life all by choices. Coffee and booze is an appendage to our health or demise. It’s all good and certainly beats the alternative. Live long and prosper!

    Can listening to classical music, chants, etc. have any effect on aging?

    I’m an extremely strong, healthy, dynamic and young-looking (look at least 20 years younger) 70yo. I drink 3 drinks a day, every day, and have all my adult life. Otherwise, I have maniacally healthy habits, exercise daily, eat the very best foods (veggie), and take the very best supplements, all researched and tweaked continuously. My 3 drinks are spread way out, with many hours inbetween. I have tried to find out for many years now whether 3 drinks spread way out is any healthier than 3 drinks at one sitting. This would be the “frequency vs. intensity” argument concerning an elevated blood-alcohol level.

    If I found out there’s no difference, then I’d at least cut down to 2 drinks a day. But, even though I’ve asked this question over and over, written to health magazines, scoured the web….etc etc….nobody has ever answered or even acknowledged the question! I KNOW there have to be studies on this topic (there are with DRUGS, and the answer is that intensity beats out frequency), but I simply can’t find them. So there we are. I’ll keep on with my routine and hope for the best. (I’m high-strung and a bit manicky, and the alcohol works far better than any meds, which I refuse to take.)

    Although still very controversial, it may seem like the advantages of moderate drink of alcohol are beginning to outweigh the disadvantages.

    Increases Longevity (this post)
    Reduces The Risk Of Dying From Cardiovascular Disease
    Lowers the risk of diabetes

    Increases the risk of breast cancer in women and
    Decline in brain function
    Weight increase and high blood sugar content

    BTW, moderate drinking for women is one standard drink/ day. So does the definition of moderate drinking in this research also apply to women?

    I guess the question still continues as whether one needs to drink moderately or not.

    With regards to coffee, aside from the speculative potential of having cancer from the Carcinogenic Product, Acrylamide, and other minor disadvantages, It may seem like there are more advantages to drinking it.

    I am 71; husband is 72; neither of us is on meds, but we take nutritional supplements. We drink about 3 cups of coffee daily, no alcohol; have never had cigarette in mouth–a goal I set at age 16.
    He hunts and fishes; I read and work on genealogy. We still attend conferences; love learning.

    We receive so much input about drinking alcohol and/or coffee and its negative effects but never are given the actual details of why the concern(s). One proponent of this belief (and who was part of these studies) was a doctor and after questioning him further and further it turns out his real concerns with alcohol was with the liver but ONLY in regards to drinking huge amount of alcohol every day. So why the concern for one or two drinks a day? There apparently was none.

    I received inputs from two coroners, both who said the veins and arteries of alcoholics were as smooth and supple as those of a new born baby. So I conclude that there is a relationship between alcohol and the health of these areas of the body.

    As for coffee why not? This a stimulant and every study/doctor highly recommends “stimulating” the brain with hobbies, puzzles, etc. Coffee does the same thing so why the concern? In fact coffee may stimulate many parts of the body that may be helpful. I started drinking two to three cups of coffee daily in my early 70s and I can honestly say it has helped my memory and mental capabilities significantly.

    Finally, when any person in their 90s or above is asked “What’s your secret?” almost all say they have a drink or two a day and drink coffee or tea. I know a lot of people who drink much more than one or two drinks a day and none of them have liver issues. By today’s medical thinking if drinking is such an issue all of my coal miner grand parents, uncles, etc. should have died in their 20s.:):)

    Bottom line is the medical industry should do more research into the physiology of these chemicals on bodily functions rather than just saying something is not good due to a study that follow people’s habits. Show me the actual technical reasons for these concerns.

    Please be careful about using the word “protective.” This implies a causal relationship, but all this study could show is correlation. And this point should be stressed in any report or summary about the findings. Thank you!

    I’m passing this on to all my 90+ friends.

    I’ve never liked to dance, and I’m not good at it! Any other ideas?

    I’m 75; husband 87 – love to dance. I work out 6X week; husband is active, doesn’t work out.
    We’re not “nuts” yet!!

    I just read that all alcohol consumption is bad for you, but before that it was coffee. I’ve stopped getting excited or worried about these reports because I like coffee and a glass of wine (sometimes a martini or beer). I exercise and I have hobbies, along with a wonderful husband. If that’s not good enough, then oh well.

    Here is an article that studied dance in older people. Measurable results only from the dancers, not from the other exercisers. It’s certainly my favorite way to keep in shape!

    Dancing: been dancing all my life since about age 13, now 81. Switched to line dancing about 20 years ago when most partners disappeared through age or death. It kept me sane through caregiving for mom and aunt; in 2014 fell and broke femur badly, cannot dance anymore, had to take up chair dancing, not near as much fun. Moving to music is wonderful at any age.

    I am 75, and for the same reason (no need of partner) I joined line dancing for seniors. I love it. Our instructor Betty will be 80 next week and she is a row model for most of us. She is sweet beautiful woman with radiating her inner beauty and dancing with ease of 20 years old. For me line dancing in my age is beneficial not only for moving and stimulating the brain but also opportunity to meet and socialize with people in my age category.

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^