Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Don't Try Drinking Your Way to Health Just Yet

If you're like me, you get a bit of sass now and again from people who mock the LDS Word of Wisdom. In recent years, one favorite thing for this crowd to bring up are the supposed health benefits to be found in moderate drinking. You know what I mean: research shows cardiovascular health benefits from a glass of wine a day, so on and so forth.

I've always been suspicious of this research. (This comes of years teaching statistics and research design.) Nobody seemed to be asking two questions: (1) but what is the downside of moderate drinking? and, (2) could you get those benefits some other way?

Well, now someone has been asking those question, and the answers aren't too favorable for the moderate drinking crowd. In an article featured today on Yahoo!, dating from a Sunday feature on HealthDay, we read that there are some nasty little problems with moderate drinking:
Drinking any alcohol at all is known to increase your risk for contracting a number of types of cancer, said Susan Gapstur, vice president of epidemiology for the American Cancer Society. These include cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon/rectum and breast. ... [emphasis added]
There also are other health risks from moderate drinking, including liver damage and accidents caused by impaired reflexes, said Dr. Jennifer Mieres, director of nuclear cardiology at the New York University School of Medicine and an American Heart Association spokeswoman.
In addition, indeed there are other ways to get those touted benefits:
The health benefits from drinking generally are related to the antioxidants and anti-inflammatories found in red wines and dark beers, Mieres said, but those substances can be found in a number of different fruits and vegetables.
"When it comes to disease prevention, you're better off changing your diet to include fruits and vegetables and get your antioxidants and anti-inflammatories from natural sources," she said.
For example, people can get resveratrol -- the antioxidant found in red wine that's believed to provide most of the drink's health benefits -- from drinking grape juice just as well as from drinking wine, Mieres said.
The bottom line for these researchers is simple: don't drink alcohol.
"For people that don't drink, not drinking is important," Mieres said. "You can get the same benefits of drinking from leading a heart-healthy lifestyle. To me, it's not worth the risk to start drinking. ..." ...
"I think the take-home message is, if you don't drink, don't start to help protect yourself from coronary heart disease because there are so many other things you can do," Gapstur said. "If you already drink, you might want to limit your consumption."
Though the studies touting the positive health effects of alcohol are scientifically accurate, they also appear to play into people's desires for quick fixes to complex problems, Mieres said.
I heartily recommend looking at the entire on-line article, perhaps even printing it and filing it away (carefully noting the full URL).

When it comes down to it, every passing year shows more evidence of the real wisdom of the World of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 89).

So what's up with me, when it comes to this topic?

I saw alcohol do a good job of destroying lives in my family. My earliest memory of my father recalls him breaking every stick of our living room furniture in a drunken rage. After years of heavy drinking, at the age of 57, he had a brain tumor said to be the size of a grapefruit. (It was probably a disk with the diameter of a grapefruit, I would guess.) He died on the operating room table. My late mother seemed to me to be slipping slowly into the upper reaches of alcoholism herself, when her brain tumor at the age of 53 put her on an anti-seizure medication that prohibited her from ever drinking alcohol again--possibly extending her life.

Is my experience so very extreme? It certainly isn't the stuff of those wonderful magazine or television ads, promising the drinker fellowship, suavidad, and sex appeal. But the conversations I've had with friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and others over the years suggest to me that alcohol, one or our last legal psychoactive but medically useless drugs, has effects such as I saw quite frequently.

Don't be taken in by the 'moderate drinking' crowd. You know a better way.

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