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Drinking Habits Shortening Your Life, According to the Mayo Clinic

It may be time to start cutting back.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

A double espresso to fuel you through those morning meetings. A soda from the office vending machine to help you avoid the mid-afternoon energy crash. A cocktail or a cold beer to unwind at the end of a long, tiring workday. Some of these seemingly innocent beverages add up. In fact, there are some drinking habits shortening your life, or at the very least, take a toll on your overall health—according to the Mayo Clinic.

That's not to say you can't enjoy the occasional cocktail or latte. In fact, studies have shown that red wine and coffee can actually lengthen your lifespan, thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The key, as with all things, is moderation. And of course, taking any pre-existing health conditions—like high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol—into consideration, as well as any prescription medications that could interact with certain beverages.

Here are a few of the bad drinking habits shortening your life you may want to bust, and for even more healthy tips, check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

1

Guzzling more than four cups of coffee a day.

Cup of pour over coffee being poured into a mug in the morning.
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You might want to keep an eye on your daily java consumption—according to a 2013 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, having more than four cups a day can increase your risk of dying from a host of diseases if you're under the age of 55. In fact, researchers discovered that death rates from all causes rose by more than half in people who had more than 28 cups a week.

"From our study, it seems safe to drink one to three cups of coffee a day," said one of the study's co-authors, Xuemei Sui, who defines a cup of coffee as 6 to 8 ounces.

Researchers noted that one reason why this association may be stronger among younger men and women is that they may be more likely to have other unhealthy behaviors, such as a poor diet and/or higher alcohol consumption.

"The exact mechanism between coffee and mortality still needs clarification," added Sui. "Coffee is high in caffeine, which has the potential to stimulate the release of epinephrine, inhibit insulin activity, and increase blood pressure."

In addition to limiting yourself to four or fewer cups of coffee a day, Mayo Clinic also highly recommends cutting back on your consumption if you experience side effects such as headaches, insomnia, irritability, fast heartbeat, muscle tremors, nervousness, or frequent urination.

Here's One Major Side Effect of Drinking Coffee Every Day, Says Science.

2

Regularly drinking sugar sweetened beverages.

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Whether you take your coffee loaded with flavored syrup or you love sweetened fruit juice, Mayo Clinic reports that regular consumption of sugary drinks has been proven countless times to be a one of the drinking habits shortening your life and linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

In fact, a large study published in the journal Circulation revealed that people who drink more sugar-sweetened beverages have a greater risk of premature death—especially from heart disease—than do those who drink fewer. The study also found a modest link between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and death from cancer, particularly breast cancer among women.

As a result, Mayo Clinic highly recommends opting for unsweetened drinks like water, tea, iced tea, or coffee instead. You can use a fruit infuser to give your water flavor without racking up the sugar content—or even mix 100% unsweetened juice with seltzer to reduce your sugar intake.

While you're at it, scope out the 13 Drinks To Sip On For A Longer Life.

3

Having a lot of caffeinated drinks if you already have high blood pressure.

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The connection between caffeine and high blood pressure is still debated. However, Mayo Clinic states that caffeine can cause a short-term but dramatic increase in blood pressure and may also result in increases over the long-term. This effect happens even if you don't have high blood pressure, but is especially important to be aware of if you already are watching your blood pressure levels.

According to Mayo Clinic, this effect could be due to the fact that either caffeine triggers your body to release more adrenaline (a stress hormone that elevates your blood pressure). Or, it could be that caffeine may block a certain hormone that helps to keep your arteries widened.

However, it's important to note that the effect may be more significant if you consume caffeine rarely.

"Some people who regularly drink caffeinated beverages have a higher average blood pressure than do those who drink none," Mayo Clinic states. "Others who regularly drink caffeinated beverages develop a tolerance to caffeine. As a result, caffeine doesn't have a long-term effect on their blood pressure."

If you have high blood pressure, Mayo Clinic advises limiting your caffeine consumption to 22 milligrams a day max (about two 8-ounce cups of coffee) and asking your doctor whether you should avoid caffeinated drinks entirely.

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4

Drinking soda daily.

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This might come as no surprise, but even downing soda in moderation can do some serious damage to your health. According to Mayo Clinic, drinking one regular soda a day equals up to 32 pounds of sugar a year—which is alarming given that consuming a lot of added sugar is linked to increased risks of obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and inflammation in the body.

While you don't want to consume sugar in any form, Mayo Clinic notes that it's always better to get it from natural sources like honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and fruit—rather than the fructose, dextrose, cane juice, and high fructose corn syrup found in processed drinks and foods. Additionally, Mayo Clinic reports that sports drinks and fruit juice can pack just as much added sugar, so it's important to always check the nutrition label before imbibing them.

5

Drinking two or more diet sodas a day.

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Think diet soda is better for you? We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but just because your beverage is sugar- and calorie-free doesn't mean it's healthier. Mayo Clinic reports that while artificial sweeteners won't really raise your blood sugar levels the way traditional sweeteners will, there are other concerns related to these substances. One study found that women who consistently drank two or more artificially sweetened beverages a day had a higher risk of stroke than women who drank those beverages less often or not at all.

Mayo Clinic concluded: "Although more research is needed, these findings point to the value of consuming artificially sweetened beverages in moderation."

Although Mayo Clinic acknowledged that consuming artificial sweeteners in moderation may be safe, the organization still advises opting for whole foods and drinks that are naturally sweetened over processed ones like diet soda, which contain no nutritional value.

"If you regularly drink artificially sweetened beverages as a replacement for sweetened drinks, use that as a stepping stone to drinking more plain water," Mayo Clinic states. "Your body needs the water, and there's no question that it's good for you."

Here are 15 Reasons You Should Never Drink Diet Soda.

6

"Heavy" alcohol consumption.

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If you're drinking alcohol every day, or having more than several drinks in one sitting, Mayo Clinic strongly advises taking a closer look at your habits in order to protect your health, given that alcohol in excess is considered one of the drinking habits shortening your life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, high-risk drinking is defined as more than three drinks in one day or more than seven drinks in a week for women. For men over the age of 65, it's just one drink per day, and for men under the age of 65, it's more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week.

"Occasional beer or wine with dinner, or a drink in the evening, is not a health problem for most people," says Mayo Clinic doctor Terry Schneekloth, MD, in a Q&A. "When drinking becomes a daily activity, though, it may represent the progression of your consumption and place you at increased health risks. Alcohol can damage your body's organs and lead to various health concerns. For women, this damage happens with lower doses of alcohol, because their bodies have lower water content than men. That's why the moderate drinking guidelines for women and men are so different."

Excessive drinking can increase your risk of serious health problems as pancreatitis, certain cancers, heart muscle damage, stroke, liver disease, and sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease. It can also raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels.

"Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily increases your blood pressure, but repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases," says Sheldon G. Sheps, MD, emeritus professor of medicine and former chair of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension in the Department of Medicine at Mayo Clinic. "Keep in mind that alcohol contains calories and may contribute to unwanted weight gain—a risk factor for high blood pressure."

With all of that in consideration, Mayo Clinic advises drinking in moderation. As a general rule, that means no more than one drink a day for women, or two a day for men—which translates to equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

7

Having an energy drink.

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It doesn't matter how many you have—energy drinks are hardly a healthy choice, and consuming them regularly is one of the drinking habits shortening your life. According to Mayo Clinic research, knocking back just one 16-ounce energy drink can significantly increase your blood pressure as well as stress hormone responses. And previous studies have indicated that energy drinks are particularly harmful when you mix them with alcohol.

"In previous research, we found that energy drink consumption increased blood pressure in healthy young adults," says co-author Dr. Anna Svatikova. "We now show that the increases in blood pressure are accompanied by increases in norepinephrine, a stress hormone chemical, and this could predispose an increased risk of cardiac events – even in healthy people."

Instead of reaching for one of those sugar-laden energy drinks, Mayo suggests trying to get quality sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and increasing physical activity to naturally boost your energy levels. Unsweetened green or black tea is another viable option—both will give you a dose of caffeine without the sugar, and studies show they might even reduce your blood pressure.

7

Drinking a lot of cow's milk.

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As long as you're not lactose intolerant, there's nothing wrong with having some milk, yogurt, or cheese here and there—in fact, dairy is an excellent source of protein and bone-strengthening calcium. But you might want to reconsider just how much milk you're having—because according to 2019 research conducted by Mayo Clinic, high consumption of dairy products may be linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

"Our review highlighted a cause for concern with high consumption of dairy products," says John Shin, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic oncologist and lead author of the study. "The findings also support a growing body of evidence on the potential benefits of plant-based diets."

Mayo Clinic does acknowledge that cow's milk and other dairy products can have a place in a healthy diet—however, the organization recommends choosing low-fat or skim varieties, since full-fat products contain saturated fat that can increase your cholesterol. Also, it's best to consume milk and other dairy products in moderation: about two servings daily.

Here's What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Milk.

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health, wellness, and lifestyle writer who has contributed to INSIDER, HuffPost, Bustle, Elite Daily, POPSUGAR, StyleCaster, and AskMen. Read more