Is Alcohol Good For You?

A week ago, my mother returned from her one-month vacation in the Alps of Southeastern France. One of the first things she said was "Darn, the French sure know how to enjoy food!"

What she meant was that she ate like a queen for a whole month, exercised very little, and never gained a pound. The reason: 2 to 3 glasses of red wine per day with her meals.

The French Paradox was a term coined on 60 minutes in 1991 to describe the apparent unlikely relationship between the fact that while the French, especially those in the South of France, eat inexcusable amounts of heart-stopping, artery-clogging saturated fats, smoke Gauloise cigarettes, and exercise very little, they have one of the lowest heart attack rates in the world.

Their moderate and daily consumption of red wine was given as the most likely reason for this phenomenon. The program unleashed a red wine mania.

Within weeks of this program, sales of red wine in the United States shot up 40% (about 2.5 million bottles) and Gallo Winery had to put their leading brand, Hearty Burgundy , on allocation.

Sales of red wine for the year following the broadcast were up 39 percent. Americans had taken this health message to heart.

Alcohol and spirituality

The Apostle Paul recommended to Timothy to drink wine for his stomach's sake and for his continuous ailments. The Bible often makes references to the value of wine for health and enjoyment.

Our ancestors knew of its healthy advantages when taken in moderation. In fact, up until the 18th century, wine played a central role in medicine. Even the ancient Egyptians of 5000 years ago developed a method of brewing beer in order to counteract several forms of mysterious illnesses.

The ancient Greeks believed that wine was the elixir of the gods. After all, we do call them "spirits" today.

Alcohol and your health

Wine inhibits the growth of all microorganisms that cause several kinds of disease in man. Because of its alcoholic and acidic content, these microorganisms simply die in the wine.

In the modern world, wine is accepted as a healthful drink. Only in the United States are we once again beginning to rediscover its value and benefits in society.

For many years, we focused on the dangers of overindulgence. To be sure, there are dangers to the overuse of wine. The Bible also warns of this. But in moderation, it is a healthy beverage.

A scientist gone mad?

The French scientist who showed the world that wine is good for the heart has a new discovery: two to three glasses of wine a day reduces death rates from all ailments by up to 30 percent.

"I've always suspected this," said Dr. Serge Renaud, whose findings appeared in the journal Epidemiology . "Wine protects not only against heart disease but also most cancers."

Renaud's study of 34,000 middle-aged men living in eastern France supports what has become known as "the French paradox": Frenchmen who eat lots of saturated fat but still live a long time.

Results were the same for smokers, nonsmokers and former smokers, he said, and there were no differences between white collar and blue collar drinkers.

Recent studies in the United States found that a drink of almost any type of alcohol can lower death rates by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Renaud, however, maintains that wine also acts against other heart ailments and cancers because of the antioxidant action of polyphenol compounds in grapes.

"Wine is a more diluted form of alcohol, which is important to the body and, if taken moderately at mealtime, it is easily absorbed," he explained.

Renaud set off a California wine boom in 1991 when he outlined his French-paradox theory in an interview on CBS' 60 Minutes . "It started a huge controversy," the 70-year-old researcher recalled, chuckling.

"The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms challenged me to show numbers. Well, here they are." In fact, he had already made his case in a 1992 article in Lancet . He reported that 20-30 grams of alcohol daily could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by at least 40 percent.

Alcohol protects the heart mainly by acting on platelets in the blood to prevent clotting, he found. Subsequent studies elsewhere supported these findings.

In the Epidemiology article, Renaud reported a 30 percent reduction in death rates from all ailments from 2-3 glasses of wine a day, a 35 percent reduction from cardiovascular disease, and an 18-24 percent reduction from cancer.

He plans a second article later this year with a more detailed analysis of his sampling. He is a strong advocate of the Mediterranean diet, based heavily on wheat, olive oil and vegetables, with more fish than red meat. And, of course, Renaud adds, a healthy amount of wine.

Renaud laments a steady drop in wine consumption among many Frenchmen, who these days take less time for meals and relaxation.

"The Italians still drink a lot of wine," he said. "Maybe in time we will have to call it 'the Italian paradox'."

A binge too far

After four glasses a day, Renaud warned, wine has an adverse effect on death rates. Although it still protects the heart, excess drinking raises the danger of cancers and liver disease. The liver is the first major organ of the body that detoxifies the contents of the blood stream.

In moderate amounts, detoxifying small amounts of alcohol is a walk in the park for your liver. Once you exceed 4 glasses of wine per day (or 2 bottles of beer a day), however, the liver goes into overdrive in order to clean out your system.

The kidneys are another set of organs that help in the process. The problem arises when a continual binge occurs over alcohol for a long period of time.

In this case, your liver and kidneys start to become tired and will eventually fail, leaving you on dialysis and the National organ-donor waiting list.

Healthy lifestyle

The following are some quick suggestions on how to enjoy your lifestyle and enjoy your glass of wine in order to live a healthy, long life:

Exercise is a key factor.
However, it is wise to exercise before drinking a glass of wine or any other alcohol. Exercise makes your blood stream circulate faster, and could lead to a quicker absorption of wine in your system.

Believe it or not, you can get drunk quite quickly from just one glass.

Have wine with foods that are filling.
Foods like pasta, red meat, fish and potatoes, this way, you will drink less. Always remember that moderation is important.

The second or third and last drink of the day should be taken at night, an hour before going to bed. First, this will make you sleep better. Second, it will clean out your system one last time before hitting the hay.

Never use alcohol as an escape method for difficulties you may face in your daily life. Once you start going down the path to addiction, it's ten times as hard to get out. Do yourself a favor and seek counseling from friends, family and professionals.

Be aware of the alcohol content of all your drinks. Wines tend to be the least concentrated with alcohol. If you are a whisky or Scotch drinker, however, one small glass per day is enough.

And like the Italians say, "Here's to a hundred years of healthy life!" Salut!

Is Alcohol Good For You?


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