Demon Rum Gets a Makeover

January 01, 1996  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Consumers’ Research Inc.  ·  Nutrition

Research indicates that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages lowers the risk of heart disease. New federal guidelines recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Sleeper, you probably remember the scene in which Woody Allen, having been awakened in the future, is urged by a doctor to eat fudge because it’s been determined that fudge is good for you.

If so, you may have a sense of deja vu when the government’s new health guidelines came out recently saying that a couple of drinks a day may be good for you. Yes, drink drinks. You know: booze, the devil’s brew, demon rum.

Researchers began to suspect that alcohol might have healthful effects when they observed that the French — despite their predilection for vast amounts of foie gras (goose liver), cheese, thick sauces, and other sources of cholesterol-producing, arterychoking saturated fat-nonetheless have a death rate half that of Americans and people in other countries where people eat less animal fat.

"I personally think a glass of wine or two a days is an excellent idea!"

True, the French eat less of everything than we do and obesity is a factor in heart disease. But that just didn’t explain it all. So attention was focused on something the French love to consume as much as gobs of animal fat — red wine.

Indeed, it turned out there was a link between wine consumption and lowered risk of heart disease. Further studies showed that this protective effect may extend to other forms of alcohol consumed as well.

There were many skeptics who reasoned that persons who took time out of their day to sip a glass or two probably led more relaxed lifestyles than those who didn’t — lifestyles that lent themselves to a reduced risk of heart disease.

But prospective studies in which volunteers were randomly put in either drinking or nondrinking groups found that the effect continued, that the drinkers had less heart disease.

Still, it remained to be seen if the benefits to the heart outweighed the health drawbacks of alcohol consumption, including higher blood pressure and increased risk of certain cancers and stroke. The answer was yes.

Thus an evaluation of drinking versus non-drinking nurses, published last May in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that overall death rates were lowest in the women who drank moderately.

A poll commissioned late last year by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that has petitioned the government to allow liquor companies to promote their products as healthful in moderation, found that most Americans were unaware alcohol could reduce the chances of developing heart disease. Of those who were aware of the effect, half attributed it to wine only, probably as a result of a great deal of media attention paid to what has been called "the French paradox."

In fact, there is some evidence that wine may be better for you than other types of booze. This may be because wine is less likely to induce cancer and some of the other bad effects. A study in The British Medical Journal in October found a benefit for wine only.

But before you lie down with your mouth open under the wine spigot, there are a lot of caveats you need to be aware of.

First, all this applies only to moderate drinking. The new federal health guidelines advise no more than a drink a day for women and two for men. (This is based on women’s smaller size, not sexism.) The same nurses study that showed a dip in death rates for moderate drinkers showed death rates highest for the heaviest drinkers.

Health authorities estimate that excess consumption of alcohol causes some 100,000 premature deaths each year in this country. Go out driving right after consuming your two drinks and you could become or cause one of the more than 15,000 driving fatalities attributed to drinking and driving each year. Pregnant women should have no alcohol, nor should people on certain medicines.

Finally, if you’re trying to watch your weight, remember that a glass of wine has 100 calories and a bottle of beer 150.

But drink responsibly and moderately and you could live a longer and perhaps more enjoyable life because of it.

Now that the government has declared alcohol healthful, can fudge be far behind?

Sorry, that truly is the stuff of science fiction.