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Healthy Men

In the drink
Health benefits of alcohol can be easily drowned

By Johnny Lucas

The human race has been making and drinking beer, wine and spirits for so long that you'd think by now we'd have answers to some basic health questions about alcohol.

Actually we do. It's just that we keep getting answers we'd rather not hear. Does "All things in moderation" sound familiar? The Greek poet Hesoid wrote this advice about 720 B.C.

Hesoid, of course, couldn't have known that modern-day statistics show that moderate drinkers have lower rates of heart disease. In general, the health benefits of drinking in moderation are so well established now that even some teetotalling doctors doing research into the evils of drink, have been unable to ignore their own findings and have actually begun to hoist their glasses.

The social cost of alcoholism is well known: traffic deaths, domestic violence and social problems. And it's us men who are responsible for the lion's share of the trouble. Dr. Susan Bondy, a research scientist at the Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto, says that even with controls for body weight, body water content, and amount consumed, the stats show that there are more male problem drinkers than female. If you can't achieve moderation, no booze is far better than too much.

On the positive side, there's sex, sort of. A moderate amount of alcohol does remove some inhibitions and can lead to having a better, more relaxed time in bed. But the guy who thinks he's a great lover when he's drunk is in the same category of delusion as the guy who thinks he's a great driver when he's intoxicated. Shakespeare, who knew a bit about love, says in MacBeth that drink "provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance."

How much can you drink? There are a lot of people who should never have any alcohol at all. If you're not in that group, the answer is not so simple. It depends on your body weight, your diet, your metabolism and other variables.

Conventional wisdom says two drinks per day. New drinking guidelines announced by Stephen Dorrel, Britain's Health Minister, got a lot of attention by claiming that four drinks a day is OK. But it turns out they were talking about weaker drinks. The accepted daily maximum is still somewhere between two and three drinks. One Canadian beer, 1.5 ounces of spirits, five ounces of wine, each contain equal amounts of alcohol and are each considered to be one drink.

Red wine has been touted as having dietary benefits such as antioxidants and even, maybe, some hormone imitators, but according to Dr. Bondy, there's nothing in wine that you won't get from a well-balanced and varied diet. Dr. Bondy also says that the way you drink is important. Don't drink on an empty stomach. Do take your drinks over a few hours. And a non-medical consideration: be careful who you drink with--your drinking buddies can have bad effects on your resolve and your behavior.

And booze isn't medicine, so let's not pretend that we're drinking because it's our duty. "If anyone's so foolish as to look to alcohol as the perfect medicine, they should," and there's a pause while Dr. Bondy searches for a tactful phrase "...look to other lifestyle changes." The important thing is to remain aware of what you're doing and, she adds, to "respect the fact that alcohol has pros and cons."

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Johnny Lucas is a Toronto writer.


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