Why I’m Not A Teetotaler

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This week our contributing writer Doctor Gifford-Jones talks about the benefits of moderate drinking.

What’s the first thing I do after seeing patients all day? I take a 20 minute walk home, greet my wife, open up the bar and enjoy a drink while watching the evening news. Some evenings a glass of wine with dinner. There are 10 reasons why I consider this a healthy habit.

One – I enjoy life and want to live longer. The American Cancer Society recently studied the drinking habits of 500,000 Americans. They found that one alcoholic drink a day in middle age decreased the risk of premature death by 20 percent.The reason is that wine contains antioxidants which eliminate free radicals, believed to be associated with aging, heart disease and cancer. And if you like Martinis don’t ignore James Bond’s advice. He always orders “shaken martinis”. Now we know they contain more antioxidants than stirred martinis.

Two – Regular consumption of alcohol lowers the risk of heart attack by 30 to 50 percent! Alcohol dilates blood vessels and increases high density lipoprotein, (HDL) the good cholesterol which removes bad cholesterol from circulation. It also makes platelets more slippery providing less chance of a blood clot in coronary arteries. And it lowers blood fibrinogen, a small particle that’s part of the clotting process.

Three – Two recent studies show that light consumption of alcohol significantly decreases the risk of stroke, the type caused by a blood clot.

Four – Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in people over age 65. It’s now believed that alcohol reduces the risk of this disease. And it reduces the chance of arterial blockage in the lower legs.

Five – In 1998 France’s National Institute of Health and Scientific Research reported an interesting finding. A study suggested that elderly people who drink moderate amounts of wine are less likely to suffer from senility and Alzheimer’s Disease than teetotalers. Now an 18 year old study of 3,500 Japanese Americans in Hawaii has more good news. Those who drank up to one alcoholic beverage a day were 40 percent less likely to have a poor score on cognitive brain function tests than non-drinkers.

Six – Today there’s an unprecedented epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Every 45 seconds a new diabetic is diagnosed in North America. The reason? Obesity. So one could argue the last thing obese people need is more calories from alcohol. But luckily alcohol increases the effectiveness of insulin. In effect, our cells become more responsive to insulin which lowers blood sugar.

Seven – Another disease, osteoporosis (brittle bones), affects large numbers of elderly people. The majority of fractured hips are due to this problem and it costs our health care system millions of dollars. A Finnish study evaluated the bone density and alcohol consumption of 3,200 postmenopausal women for six years. The teetotalers lost a larger amount of bone.

Eight – I don’t like the hypocrisy of doctors, those who at international meetings agree that numerous studies show moderate drinking helps longevity. But in the next breath they say they can’t tell patients about them because it will increase alcoholism, drunken driving and other social problems. I too condemn such irresponsibility. But isn’t it dishonest to keep sensible people in the dark about the benefits of alcohol simply because some abuse it?

Nine – Don’t forget the relaxing effects of alcohol in our over-tensed world.

Ten – I believe what some of the most brilliant minds have said about alcohol. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, supported the medicinal use of alcohol. Sir William Osler the esteemed professor of medicine at McGill , Johns Hopkins and Oxford University claimed that alcohol was for the elderly what milk was for the young. Add to this the wise counsel of Armand Cardinal Richelieu who remarked, “If God forbade drinking would he have made wine so good?” And don’t forget that Jesus supported the use of alcohol. After all, he transformed water into wine. So why would a lowly mortal like me want to ignore all these sage teachings? Particularly when there are more old wine drinkers than old doctors!

What is moderate drinking? One or two drinks a day (one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or one-and-a-half ounces of hard liquor). But if you’ve never touched a drop of alcohol or can’t be a moderate drinker, forget everything I’ve said in this column. I’ve no desire to add to our social problems!