Drinking alcohol helps you to live past 90

By on
90+ study and drinking wine

The secret to living long into ripe old age has been heavily debated for quite some time. Eating a healthier diet, regularly practising yoga in a peaceful park, visiting exotic hot springs to cleanse your body… people have tried all sorts of things to ensure longevity.

However, a study (the 90+ study) has discovered that the key to reaching past the age of 90 could all come down to drinking a couple of glasses of alcohol a night and putting on a few extra pounds.

Dr Claudia Kawas, a specialist in neurology from the University of California, spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Austin, Texas about research that she has carried out for the past 15 years.

She and her team began The 90+ Study in 2003 in order to investigate the reasons why some people reach the age of 90 and beyond and others don’t. The researchers analysed 1,700 nonagenarians, examining how their daily habits affect their health.

They discovered that those who consumed approximately two glasses of beer or wine a day were 18 per cent less likely to experience a premature death.

Furthermore, those who were slightly overweight, although not obese, were recorded as having a three per cent reduced chance of an early death.

“I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity,” Dr Kawas stated at the conference.

Moderate drinking wasn’t the only activity reported as having a positive impact on the health of the participants.

Regular exercise and spending time practising a hobby were also associated with living for longer. Those who spent two hours a day on a hobby were 21 per cent less likely to pass away prematurely, while 15 to 45 minutes of daily physical activity also reportedly reduced their risk of an early death by 11 per cent.

For some people, living past the age of 90 and maintaining a healthier overall wellbeing in old age could be related to their genetic makeup.

Scientists from the Northwestern University in Chicago have carried out a study exploring the memory of people who are more than 80 years old.

The team noted that the individuals classified as “superagers” - a term coined by neurologist Marsel Mesulam to categorise people whose memory and attention span reflects that of someone far younger - had a greater concentration of Von Economo neurons (also known as spindle neuron)  in their brains.

Von Economo (spindle) neurons are a type of brain cell that are believed to increase social behaviour, which could in turn help a person retain their memory for longer. Some of the “superagers” even had more Von Economo neurons in their brains than people in their 20s.

The 90+ Study

The 90+ Study was initiated in 2003 to study the oldest-old, the fastest growing age group in the United States. The 90+ Study is one of the largest studies of the oldest-old in the world. More than 1,600 people have enrolled. Because little is known about people who achieve this milestone, the remarkable increase in the number of oldest-old presents a public health priority to promote the quality as well as the quantity of life.

The 90+ Study participants

Initial participants in The 90+ Study were once members of The Leisure World Cohort Study (LWCS), which was started in 1981. The LWCS mailed surveys to every resident of Leisure World, a large retirement community in Orange County, California (now incorporated as the city of Laguna Woods). Using the 14,000 subjects from the LWCS, researchers from The 90+ Study were able to ask, What allows people to live to age 90 and beyond?

Studying the oldest-old

Participants of The 90+ Study are visited every six months by researchers who perform neurological and neuropsychological tests. Our researchers at the Clinic for Aging Research and Education (CARE), located in Laguna Woods, obtain information about diet, activities, medical history, medications and numerous other factors. Additionally, participants are given a series of cognitive and physical tests to determine how well people in this age group are functioning.

Goals of the study

  • Determine factors associated with longevity: What makes people live to age 90 and beyond? What types of food, activities or lifestyles are associated with living longer?
  • Examine the epidemiology of dementia in the oldest-old: How many people aged 90 and older have dementia? How many become demented each year? What are ways to remain dementia-free into your 90s?
  • Examine rates of cognitive and functional decline in the oldest-old: How do memory loss and disability affect those in their 90s? How can people prevent memory loss and disability at this age?
  • Examine clinical pathological correlations in the oldest-old: Do the brains of people in their 90s show evidence of memory loss and dementia? Do people with dementia have differences in their brains that can be detected and treated? Determining Modifiable Risk Factors for Mortality and Dementia: What kinds of things can people change in their lives to live longer? Can people change their risk of dementia through diet, exercise or supplements?

Major findings

Researchers from The 90+ Study have published many scientific papers in premier journals. Some of the major findings are:

  • 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.

The 90+ Study is seeking new participants. If you are at least 90 years old and are willing to participate in twice annual visits and donate your brain to research after death, you may be eligible to enroll in The 90+ Study. Please contact 949.768.3635 or study90@uci.edu for more information.