On Wednesdays I like to mesh cycling, healthy living and medicine. In this regard, the conflicts surrounding drinking alcohol work well.
What other organic chemical is more debated?
Let’s start with the cyclists’ view of alcohol. Mountain-bikers’ love of beer is axiomatic. Cyclocross riders also fancy beer, this, primarily because they worship all things Flemish. Road-cyclists take a more analytical view of alcohol use. For instance, they have been known to cite scientific studies of mice that run longer on treadmills when fed resveratrol—an anti-oxidant found in red wine. Triathletes don’t really know about any of this because they are too tired to care. Plus, they only drink over-priced energy drinks. All this said however, bike riders know that too much alcohol impairs performance—and not just on the bike. Conflicts.
Heart patients also seek answers. They read that alcohol may prove protective to the heart? The French and Italians are known to have lower rates of heart disease. Does their red wine habit counteract their proclivity for dairy and animal fat? Maybe?
Atrial fibrillation patients are conflicted because of data suggesting a link between alcohol and AF. Last week a trial published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that the risk of AF with alcohol is linear, not J-shaped. These findings challenge the belief that alcohol intake below a certain “moderate” threshold is innocuous. This was a strong study, both on its merits and that it validates a common observation that for many AF patients, even small doses of alcohol precipitate rhythm problems. Choices, and conflicts.
This week, the US government can be added to the many alcohol-conflicted parties. On Monday, our Department of Agriculture released its 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans. On the one hand they quote observational data suggesting that light-to-moderate alcohol use reduces cardiac events, lowers dementia risk and increases longevity. This thesis seems believable because we all have met youthful-looking seniors who enjoy nightly cocktails.
But on the other hand, the same document robustly proclaims the dangers of heavy drinking and suggests that no one should begin drinking alcohol for its health benefits.
Well why not, asks author, lawyer, and famed addiction therapist, Dr Stanton Peele. This morning, in his WSJ piece entitled A Toast to Your Health, Dr Peele asked the obvious rhetorical question: if you say alcohol has health benefits, why not recommend that more of us drink? A little research reveals that Dr Peele’s approach to life’s excesses (addiction) entails moderating our lives rather than clinging to Draconian abstinence measures. His controversial stance emphasizes personal responsibility for one’s habits.
Whoa? Did he link personal responsibility and health? Now there is a conflict.
But wait, I have one more. It’s a doozy.
What about that wedding party in Cana 2000 years ago? You know, the one that was famously extended by a miracle. One brick building in my neighborhood—the one that serves beer with fried fish on Friday nights in the Spring—says it was wine that kept the party going. A similar-shaped brick building across the street says it was grape juice. It’s anybody’s guess, and don’t look to me to answer this one.
I’ve heard some say that fried fish and (less than two) cold beers makes a nice meal.