No one in our family has ever needed to cling to a telephone pole on the way home after drinking too much alcohol. Rather, we have long held that moderate amounts of alcohol can be healthy. But are we right? Now, a new Canadian report claims more than one or two drinks a week increases the risk of health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Professor Dan Malleck of Brock University, who specializes in alcohol regulation, and who has written several books on this topic, is skeptical of these generalized guidelines. He says they remind him of the Temperance Movement of long ago. Moreover, he states, the study used relative rather than absolute risk. This means that just three ounces and a half of alcohol shockingly increases the risk of larynx cancer by nearly 100 per cent! But this cancer is known to be primarily related to the smoking of tobacco.
The possibility of developing cancer from alcohol is real. Some studies do show an increase in a variety of malignancies. So, if you do not consume alcohol, do not start. Perhaps this decision will prolong your life.
But the attempt to extend your life by the abstinence of alcohol is a nebulous affair. For instance, if you say “no” to a glass of red wine before dinner, would this alone increase your longevity? Unlikely.
It’s been said, “alcohol is for the elderly what milk is for the young”.
Getting older is hazardous but alcohol can mediate it, particularly for the cardiovascular system where blood flow to the heart and other organs decreases with age. Alcohol dilates blood vessels, decreasing the risk of coronary attack. It also increases good cholesterol. Possibly even more vital, it makes tiny blood platelets more slippery, less likely to stick together causing a fatal coronary attack.
What about the psychological effects of alcohol? As a surgeon, I often used a routine post-operative order which sometimes surprised nurses. They would counter, “But it’s never been done before!” The order allowed patients who typically enjoyed an alcoholic pre-dinner drink at home, to enjoy one on the second post-operative surgical day, normally the most difficult day of recovery.
It also reassured patients that they were not going to die, but were getting better.
Why do we accept the potential risk of partaking one or two ounces of alcohol daily? Because it relieves the chronic pain of an aging body more effectively than drugs. Or because it relaxes the soul after an intense day of work. Not recommendations for others, but the plain facts for us.
Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of Britain, and a noted heavy drinker, made an amusing pronouncement on this issue. He stated, “I’ve taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” He started his alcohol routine early in the morning and continued during the day. He was hardly the poster boy for the Temperance Union. But he lived to 90 years of age with his mental facility intact.
Past studies such as France’s National Institute of Health and Scientific Research reported an interesting finding. Elderly people who drank moderate amounts of wine were less likely to suffer from senility and Alzheimer’s Disease.
We also know that Hippocrates, “the father of medicine”, supported the use of alcohol. Although we are not religious experts, we are told that Jesus transformed water into wine!
One of us now in the 100th year of life, hell will freeze over before this doctor dispenses with a pre-dinner cocktail. Does anyone lay blame?
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