Prescribing Alcohol…

Below is an article I read in the NY Times. Read on and let me know what you think.

There is a lot of evidence linking low-risk drinking with lower rates of heart attacks, strokes and dying, especially among middle-aged and older adults. However, most of this is correlational, meaning these things tend to go together without being able to say what causes what.

There is a clinical trial under way to actually test whether “prescribing” a daily dose of alcohol reduces cardiac risk or not, and what harmful effects there might be. In the absence of such studies assessing risk versus benefit, it is premature to “prescribe” drinking.

On the other hand, low-risk drinking is associated with many other good health outcomes, including a reduced likelihood of diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease.

However, even low-risk drinking is associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer in women, and drinking may harm fetuses at any level, so pregnant women are urged to abstain.

The evidence regarding wine versus other beverages like grape juice is mixed, so I don’t think it’s possible to draw firm conclusions at this time. It’s most likely that both alcohol, per se, and the resveratrol found in grape skins have independent effects.

A more detailed review of the evidence regarding moderate drinking is available at the alcohol institute’s Web site, “Moderate Drinking.”

One final note: the way different groups or agencies describe moderate drinking can be confusing. For example, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, from the United States Department of Agriculture, defines moderate drinking as “the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.” These are best thought of as averages over time, and if you divide the alcohol institute’s weekly guidelines — 14 drinks for men, 7 for women — by seven, you arrive at the same average intake of two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. The U.S.D.A. guidelines don’t specifically address a limit for any one day. Thus, the alcohol institute and U.S.D.A. guidelines are consistent, but the institute’s provide additional guidance.

My personal take on all this is that for most people, low-risk drinking is not harmful to health — and may be helpful. Anyone with existing medical conditions or who takes medications should discuss whether to drink with their doctor. However, I would discourage people from drinking in order to improve their health.

Dr. Willenbring is an addiction psychiatrist in St. Paul, Minn. His blog, Substance Matters, is devoted to substance use conditions.

Dr. Court’s Comments:

This debate has been raging ever since it was found that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol has some health benefits.  The main benefit has come from red wine.  There is a substance in red wine called resveratrol.  Resveratrol is a substance that is found in the skins of grapes that are used to make wine.  Scientists think this is the substance that provides all of the health benefits.

Studies have shown that resveratrol is quite amazing.  It has been shown to slow aging and is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.  Resveratrol is the real deal.  It is not this that I have a fundamental problem with.  My problem is that recommending that people drink alcohol for their health is like recommending people eat McDonald’s because it supplies the recommended daily allowance of B12. The detrimental effects of over consumption far outweighs the positive effects one might receive from the resveratrol.

Secondly, resveratrol is readily available in a pill form from reputable supplement companies.  It must come from a company with exceptional quality control because resveratrol is notoriously unstable.  Why drink alcohol to get the resveratrol when all you have to do is take it in a capsule?  This would avoid all of the potential harmful effects of the alcohol.

I was happy to see that Dr. Willenbring recommends against drinking to improve health.  All too often I find that doctors are recommending this as a way of getting healthier.  This is the wrong way to go about it.  If you want to improve your health eat a healthy diet, exercise and take a select list of supplements.  I routinely take resveratrol for my health.  It is not something that requires drinking alcohol.  Alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation, but just for that, enjoyment.  Do not drink to improve your health.

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Filed under Diet, Public Health

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