A drink a day may keep the doc­tor away

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FEATURES - Dr. Gif­ford Jones Dr. W. Gif­ford-Jones is a syn­di­cated colum­nist whose med­i­cal col­umn ap­pears in The Guardian ev­ery Tues­day. Check out his web­site, www.docgiff.com, which pro­vides easy ac­cess to past col­umns and med­i­cal tips. For com­ments, read­ers are i

We've been told for years that a nu­tri­tious ap­ple a day helps to keep the doc­tor away. But could al­co­hol have the same re­sult dur­ing this hol­i­day sea­son and the new year?

Or, is al­co­hol a wolf in sheep's cloth­ing, detri­men­tal to our well-be­ing?

I re­cently men­tioned dur­ing a talk that I be­lieved that al­co­hol in mod­er­a­tion was the best medicine ever in­vented. The au­di­ence re­sponded with a big ap­plause. But was it jus­ti­fied?

Crit­ics damn al­co­hol be­cause some peo­ple abuse it. I agree when peo­ple are killed by drunken driv­ers. But no one bans cars be­cause some idiots cause need­less deaths.

My re­search on al­co­hol dates back many years. Why? Be­cause I've al­ways en­joyed a mod­er­ate drink and wanted to know if it was evil or medic­i­nal. In 1981, Dr. Arthur Klasky, chief of car­di­ol­ogy at the Kaiser Per­ma­nente Cen­ter in Cal­i­for­nia, said, “There is no ev­i­dence that one or two drinks a day is harm­ful. There is fairly strong ev­i­dence that al­co­hol may de­crease the chance of heart at­tack.”

Dr. Charles Hen­nekens at the Har­vard Med­i­cal School agreed. He re­ported in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion that pa­tients who con­sumed ei­ther four ounces of liquor, 12 ounces of wine or 40 ounces of beer or less a day had fewer coro­nary deaths than non-drinkers.

An­other re­searcher, Dr. Joseph Bar­bo­niak from the Col­lege of Medicine of Wis­con­sin, stud­ied the coro­nary ar­ter­ies of 2,000 pa­tients. He con­cluded al­co­hol helps to clear the rust out of the heart's ar­ter­ies.

I like to re­mem­ber this study. Re­searchers col­lected 100 iden­ti­cal twins with only one ma­jor dif­fer­ence. One twin was a mod­er­ate drinker, the other a tee­to­taler and their health was fol­lowed for many years. Fi­nally the project had to be dis­con­tin­ued. Why? Be­cause all the non­drinkers had died.

But why is al­co­hol heart-heathy? Mod­er­ate amounts de­crease the bad choles­terol and in­crease good choles­terol. Pos­si­bly more im­por­tant, al­co­hol makes blood platelets, tiny par­ti­cles that are part of the blood co­ag­u­la­tion process, more slip­pery so they're less likely to form a fa­tal blood clot.

There are also over 20 world stud­ies that show mod­er­ate drinkers live longer than tee­to­talers and those who abuse al­co­hol.

Other re­searchers dis­agree. They say the al­co­hol-coro­nary re­la­tion­ship is just an­other gimmick. In ef­fect, it's sim­i­lar to the­o­ries suggest­ing that corn oil, brewer's yeast and gar­lic are ef­fec­tive pre­ven­tive mea­sures.

Other crit­ics con­tend that per­son­al­ity is more im­por­tant than al­co­hol consumption. For in­stance, re­laxed peo­ple have fewer heart at­tacks and they're also mod­er­ate drinkers. On the other hand, type A in­di­vid­u­als, who want to con­quer the world, are of­ten heavy drinkers.

What about those who have sur­vived a heart at­tack? If this event de­stroyed a sig­nif­i­cant amount of car­diac mus­cle, then the pump­ing ac­tion of the heart has lost some strength. The last thing needed is the loss of more strength re­sult­ing in con­ges­tive heart fail­ure.

Stud­ies show, too, that ex­ces­sive drink­ing does dam­age car­diac mus­cle. This is why drink­ing days should cease. Oth­ers sug­gest that if there are no symp­toms of fail­ure, “mod­er­ate” drink­ing is a rea­son­able op­tion.

Sir Wil­liam Osler coun­selled, “Al­co­hol is for the el­derly what milk is for the young.” I say amen to that. I be­lieve that the “happy hour” for se­niors would pro­vide more medic­i­nal ben­e­fit than a cart­load of pills.

So enjoy the hol­i­day sea­son. But never forget the tragedy of ex­ces­sive in­dul­gence.

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