I Drink to Your Good Health
How can I forget those sick, disabled, wounded warriors of World War 2 and Korea at Walter Reed General Hospital, the premier military hospital in the country? Depressed and agitated, into themselves, they had little desire to engage with their friends, family, nurses and doctors. It was a time when the only sedatives were barbiturates, which would make them soporific. The only pain relievers were opiates, which were addictive. There were none of today’s antidepressants. But they would brighten up before dinnertime when one to two ounces of an amazing elixir – Old Methuselah, a “medicinal” whiskey – was prescribed. The veil of isolation was lifted.
There are public health physicians and healthcare providers who have spent little time treating patients. As a result, they have limited understanding and insight into the mood lifting and health benefit properties of alcohol consumed in moderation. They tend to focus, sometimes exclusively, on statistics and on vehicle accidents and other hazards caused by consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol. These hazards, which we all are against, are well known. Of course one should not drink and drive! But lost on or undervalued by these individuals, who one might assume have never attended a holiday party or consumed a glass of beer, wine or spirits, is the ambiance and camaraderie of today’s cocktail hour and its ability to promote dialogue and relaxation.
Consumption of alcohol in moderation is part, and should be recognized as part, of our social norm. Admittedly, there is no way to quantify the satisfaction and relaxation enjoyed by individuals at social occasions. On the other hand, abuse of alcohol is quantifiable and that is where physicians must speak with one voice. Those of us who see, care for and counsel patients every day have the responsibility for educating the public as to the dangers of alcohol abuse. We need to explain what constitutes a “standard” drink in terms of alcohol content, regardless of the type of beverage: a five ounce glass of wine, or a 12 ounce bottle of beer, or one and one-half ounces of 80 proof spirits all contain the same amount of alcohol. And we need to explain that moderate consumption of alcohol means no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
So how can moderate consumption of alcohol be beneficial to your health? This begins with the basic mood relaxing and stress relieving effects for many. Beyond that, however, today there is a huge volume of literature published in peer reviewed journals on the benefits of alcohol in specific disease states. These include:
• less cardiovascular disease;
• stabilization of diabetes mellitus and its insulin requirements;
• decreased incidence of rheumatoid arthritis in patients who consume alcohol in moderation;
• less peripheral vascular disease;
• less cerebrovascular disease and dementia.
As a practicing physician, to those who do not drink I would never recommend consuming alcohol beverages to achieve health benefits. But for those who do drink, consumption in moderation is well known to provide health benefits which cannot be ignored.
So as you raise a glass during this holiday season and toast to everyone’s good health in the coming year, remember that consumption of alcohol, in moderation, can have a role in making those best wishes come true. I’ll drink to that!