The Ultimate Health Showdown: Coffee Vs. Red Wine

You know what they say, right? Coffee is good to the last drop, and red wine gets better with age. But, if you’re an older adult, is drinking that last drop good for your health? And does red wine get better for you as you age? More than half of all adults in the U.S. say that they drink coffee every day, despite any concerns that they might have about caffeine consumption. Half of all middle-aged adult Americans also drink red wine, but when you look at older adults, that percentage drops to a quarter or less of the senior population – maybe because of the conflicting things that we’ve been told about the benefits and risks of alcohol consumption over the years. 

So what’s the real scoop on these sometimes controversial beverages? Are either beneficial to your health as an older adult? Should you skip one and guzzle down the other? Or should both be part of your healthy lifestyle?

Coffee: Good (for You) to the Last Drop?

white cup of black coffee with coffee beans around the cup

While you might love the rich taste and aroma of coffee, it’s no secret that the thing that really keeps you coming back for more is the caffeine. And, while there are drawbacks to this substance, there are benefits to it, as well – and those benefits might actually be even more marked for seniors. Let’s start with the possible negative things about caffeine:

  • Caffeine sensitivity – Why do some people even bother with decaf? Well, they might like the taste of coffee, but they might be more sensitive than others to the effects of caffeine. This sensitivity can get worse as you get older, meaning that caffeine could end up affecting your sleep or make you jittery or anxious. In addition, consistently drinking more than the recommended limit of 400mg of caffeine per day (or about 4 cups of coffee) can cause insomnia, increased heart rate, or headaches. 
  • Increased stress – Caffeine actually causes the release of cortisol, or the stress hormone, into the body, so if you’re chugging cup after cup of coffee you’re at risk of increased heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose, respiration and muscle tension.
  • That frequent urge to “go” – Constantly in the bathroom? Caffeine is a diuretic, so drinking coffee will most likely make you need to urinate more often. You’ll need to stay hydrated if you’re hitting the morning joe hard. 
  • Gastrointestinal issues – Coffee can speed up digestion, which could also land you in the bathroom more than you’d like. In addition, its high acid content can lead to acid reflux. 

With those possible disadvantages of drinking coffee, though, come a surprising list of possible advantages to sticking to your daily coffee routine, especially as you age. Researchers have found that:coffee facts inforgraphic

  • Caffeinated coffee cuts the risk of oral cancers by up to 50%.
  • Coffee can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 22%. Be careful, though, there is some research that says drinking more than the recommended 4 cups a day could increase stroke risk.
  • Coffee drinkers have fewer instances of hospitalization due to heart rhythm disturbance.
  • Drinking coffee every day decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, with some studies suggesting that you’re 25-50% less likely to develop the disease if you’re a coffee drinker. Just remember not to load it up with sugar and fatty creamers!
  • People who drink at least 4 coffees or teas have lower blood pressure according to a new study out of Paris. Tea drinkers had the most blood pressure benefit, while coffee drinkers had just slightly less.
  • Research out of Greece shows that Greek boiled coffee may increase longevity and heart health.
  • Moderate coffee consumption can have a positive impact on neurological functioning.
  •  According to recent research, seniors who drink up to two cups of coffee per day can cut their risk of developing Parkinson’s by as much as 60%, and could also be up to 65% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
  • Drinking 200mg of caffeine increases your metabolic rate by 7% within three hours of consumption, so you burn more fat.
  • And, of course: a cup of caffeinated coffee can offer a boost of energy and mood!

The result of the first round: the benefits of java seem to far outweigh the risks. So if you enjoy a nice cup of coffee, go ahead and drink up! Just remember not to load your cup with unhealthy additions, to keep your intake moderate, and to try and get your fill in the morning, so as not to disrupt your precious sleep. 

Does Red Wine Get Better (for You) with Age?

Ah, red, red wine. If coffee gives you that morning boost you might be looking for, red wine can be the relaxing antidote at the end of a long day. But does drinking it help or harm you? This is where things get a little more complicated. Despite what we know about the possible dangers of alcohol consumption, there is also a widespread belief that drinking red wine in particular is good for your heart. So what does the current science say?

Turns out, researchers just aren’t totally sure what to say. But new studies are pointing more towards the possible benefits of very moderate alcohol consumption – but only for older adults. Lucky you! For younger adults, drinking still carries more of the risk of certain cancers, liver disease and high blood pressure, to name a few possible negative effects. 

Surprisingly, when researchers looked at what drinking did to life expectancy, the results varied wildly depending on on how old the people doing the drinking were. They found that 60% of years of potential life lost due to drinking were in the 20 to 49 age group, while about 15% of years lost were in those above age 65. Additionally, 80% of deaths prevented by alcohol were among seniors. 

All of that could be because older adults are more prone to things like cardiovascular disease and dementia than younger people are, and there is some research that says that alcohol has an effect on these diseases. For example, there are some theories floating around out there that a substance in red wine known as resveratrol has heart-protecting and anti-aging properties, but many researchers are still skeptical. Some even say that, while research into resveratrol with mice is promising, you might have to drink 100 to 1,000 glasses of red wine to get the same results!

red wine being poured into a glass from the bottle

  For now, some researchers believe that, for older adults who drink moderately (up to a glass a day), there are possible benefits, like:

  • Those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol seem to have lower risk of heart disease, but there are still a lot of questions surrounding this research.
  • Regular intake of flavonoid-rich foods and/or beverages (like red wine) has been associated with a 50% reduction in the risk of dementia, a delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and a reduction in the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
  • Some researchers also think that quality of life is better and total mortality is lower among moderate drinkers than among those who don’t drink. One study even showed that regular, moderate alcohol consumption increases lifespan and quality of life for men up to 80 years of age and for women indefinitely.

The result of round two? We’re going to have to say: inconclusive. Red wine is definitely a tasty and relaxing way to round out a healthy meal, but no one is quite sure just how good it is for you. That being said, it seems so far that it doesn’t hurt older adults to drink very moderate amounts, and most research now seems to point to the fact that the benefits of drinking are mainly for seniors. So, if you like your red wine, go on and indulge now and again, but stick to the guidelines (no more than 5 ounces a day). 

There’s so much research swirling around out there about what is healthy for older adults and what isn’t, and sometimes it can be hard to break it all down. Advice is constantly changing, so keep up with it as best you can, and stick to the healthiest habits you can, like getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising to stay fighting fit. A glass of red wine can absolutely fit into that lifestyle – and, don’t forget to add in your daily dose of coffee, if that’s your thing. It looks like it’s a real winner when it comes to your health!

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