Wine drinkers live longest, says new research from Finland

Helsinki: Wine drinkers are healthier than drinkers of beer and spirits, according to new research conducted on men living in Finland. That’s not too much of a surprise considering the lifestyles associated with each of the beverage types, but the study also suggested that moderate consumption of wine may contribute to a better, longer life.

Over the course of the nearly three-decade study, wine drinkers had a lower mortality rate than drinkers of other alcoholic beverages. The study, published in the February 2007 issue of the Journals of Gerontology, sought to determine if one’s drinking habits affected longevity when measured over a long period of time.

The study was led by Timo Strandberg, a researcher at the University of Oulu, Finland. His subjects, all male residents of Finland, were all born between 1919 and 1934 and all had health checkups at the Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki during the 1960s and 1970s. The men had their alcohol intake recorded during these examinations and were asked how they felt about their health. All of the men also had “leading positions” in private companies, which the scientists concluded came with some of the highest incomes in Finland (although exact amounts were not made available).

“This setting,” the study authors wrote, “offers a clearer test for the effects of alcoholic beverages because the influence of social class on beverage preference is decreased.”

By tracking down the men in 1974 and repeating the exam of them in 1985 and again in 2000, the scientists hoped to determine if alcohol consumption is related to both the quality–as well as the length–of life.

At the first examination, in 1974, 2,468 men reported if they preferred wine, beer or spirits, or if they didn’t drink, or if they had no particular favorite alcoholic beverage. By the time of the second stage of the study, in 1985, only 1,369 men were available to be reassessed. Some dropped out of the study, some changed alcohol habits and 93 of the men had died. There was another examination in 2000, and by the time of the final calculations, in 2002, the scientists were left with a pool of 1,127 men who consumed an average of three drinks a day or less, and who also did not change their drinking preferences over the course of the study.

“Preference of wine was associated with decreased mortality when compared with preference for beer or spirits over a follow-up of 29 years,” the scientists reported. Wine drinkers had a 34 percent lower rate of mortality, when compared to spirits drinkers, and beer drinkers had a 9 percent lower rate compared to spirits drinkers.

Wine drinkers were also in better health at the end of the study and had performed better on mental health tests. However, wine drinkers also tended to exercise more and smoke less, which leaves the researchers still with the possibility that wine is simply one piece of the happy, long-life puzzle, as opposed to a deciding factor.

“Is it the drinker rather than drink characteristics, as healthier men preferred wine?” asked Strandberg of the results. “That is what is important. The same applies for differences between beer and spirit drinkers,” he added. “Spirit preferrers may lead a more dangerous life, with more risk factors, and all hidden aspects may not be culled in an epidemiologic study.”