I’m getting sick and tired of taking the flack for the All-American standard drunk and those who blame it all on beer. I could just scream. I’m tired of the MADD mothers, I’m tired of that outfit in Washington, DC, who wants to raise the taxes on all beer, and not just the yellow industrial stuff from the BudCoorsMiller mob. I’ve had it up to here with the neo-prohibitionists. Good grief! Some of my friends even preach it to me!
The first miracle of Christ, at the behest of his mother, was to get booze for a wedding.
I drink sanely. Most of my drinking friends drink sanely. A very small percentage of our compatriots who use alcohol actually do abuse it. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism claims that 12 to 18 million of the estimated 128 million drinkers abuse alcohol. They do not substantiate their figures, but even if they were accurate that’s still only 9 to 14 percent of the drinking population, and a tiny 5 to 7 percent of the total population. Incidentally, according to an international survey, the U.S. ranks 18th among the developing countries in alcohol consumption. And what do these people call abuse? If you have a beer with your lunch and another before bedtime, you are an abuser of a dangerous substance. Shame on you!
But is alcohol really a dangerous substance and is two beers a day actually abuse? Obviously, in terms of human history and tradition, two beers a day is nowhere near the abuse level, but there can be little doubt that alcohol is subject to misuse. It is equally obvious that there are those who shouldn’t touch the stuff … ever.
It seems to me that it is the overzealous fundamentalists who wish, once again, to inflict prohibition on those of us who enjoy the gift of alcohol. Most of them are being led, driven and financed by ex-alcoholics, who blame alcohol and not themselves for their problems. These would-be Ayatollahs are only doing what they have always done: that is, they want power over the rest of us. The main item on these groups’ hidden agenda is prohibition. You’d have thought they’d have learned from that wretched experiment.
Let us not forget to remind these power-mad “reverends” that there are no less than 271 references to wine and spirits in the Christian scriptures, all of them positive (I think). The first miracle of Christ, at the behest of his mother, was to get booze for a wedding. These folks are at least as obsessed with alcohol as those who really do abuse the stuff. And what was that arch-conservative Paul’s advice to Timothy? “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”
The Medical Benefits
There is no end of hard medical evidence shouting that moderate alcohol consumption is very beneficial. Beer and wine are noted for their therapeutic properties. They have proven beneficial to gastric activity and both (but especially beer) have complex phenols that aid in reducing blood cholesterol levels by production of higher concentrations of protective, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) in the blood.
An old (1985) Johns Hopkins study found that moderate beer consumption leads to a longer life, reduced risk of heart attack and reduced stress. Indeed, the study found 13 percent lower rates of illness. They went so far as to declare that a beer a day keeps the doctor away 25 percent more of the time, compared with non-drinkers and spirit drinkers. They also noted that moderate drinking does not have any chronic ill effects. Another study found that those who drank 5 to 9 bottles a week were sick 28 percent less often.
The Journal of the American Medical Association found that three beers a day had the same effect on HDL levels as jogging, but that joggers who drank were not any better off. On the negative side, another study found that drinking could also lead to cancer (but what doesn’t?), which leaves the choice of whether to drink and die of cancer while avoiding a heart attack or die of a heart attack free of cancer. Other studies have found that alcohol abuse can be dangerous for pregnant women and cause birth defects in their unborn children, but no one specifies a particular minimum that could lead to that damage.
Most of these studies find that moderate alcohol consumption (about 35 grams) to the extent of two bottles of beer or 10 ounces of wine, daily, is the most beneficial. Those who do not drink, and those who use more alcohol, say up to 90 grams (one bottle of wine and five bottles of beer), die about 50 percent more often, while those who abuse alcohol (over 90 grams) die twice as often. So there you have it: you can die 50 percent more often or twice as often, take your pick, although I must admit hardly anyone dies more than once, no matter what.
The hops in beer seem especially helpful and the active ingredient, 2,5T lupinol, is a mild comative agent as well as an appetite stimulant making beer a happy alternative to anti-depressant and sedative prescriptions. As a tranquilizer, beer reduces anxiety and nervous tension. As a mild sedative, beer relaxes one and acts as damper on aggressive tendencies. There are some who feel that 2,5T lupinol may be addictive. This would certainly explain why I have had an ever-increasing antipathy to boring industrial beer.
Beer as Food
The nutritional values of beer are well known. It is considered a food by most medical authorities. According to one, the food value of a 12 ounce beer is equal to 6.4 ounces of milk, 8.8 ounces of codfish, 1.8 ounces of bread, one and a half eggs, 4.7 ounces of potatoes or 3.7 ounces of lean beef. Beer is especially high in nutrients like riboflavin, thiamine, pyridoxine, nicotinamide and pantothenic acid. It is also a good source of magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper and other minerals, and the vitamin content is minimal yet very well-balanced. Beer is a good source of easily-metabolized nutrients and the ratio of alcohol to carbohydrates makes a fine thirst quencher.
Beer is a wonderful source of calories and, for that reason, there are those who think beer is fattening. Not so, says Dr. Martin P. Lipp, whose book, The I-Like-My-Beer Diet, tells us that a bottle of beer with 150 calories has fewer calories than an equal amount of apple juice (174) or milk (240), and is equal to grapefruit juice, or half cup of cold lima beans. Dr. Lipp also notes that one cup of cottage cheese has 170 calories. He says that beer with a meal has the effect of adding calories that are quickly metabolized and therefore do not add weight. Beer (and wine, too) is only fattening when abused. My advice: If beer makes you fat, eat less.
More important than all of that is the fact that the values of alcohol are many and they deserve our attention. Brewing pioneer Fritz Maytag once observed (at a homebrewers confab) that “alcohol helps us to be less serious. The good things in our civilization and alcohol go well together, and we are a part of them.”
Studies have found that, among the elderly in homes and hospitals, moderate beer drinkers were happier, less depressed, needed less medication, were more sociable and remained more independent.
As to whether alcohol is dangerous and if so, to what extent, a Canadian study by an alcoholic beverage study committee in 1973 found this about alcohol absorption rates: The degree of impairment is less with lower alcohol beverages, such as beer and wine; absorption and diffusion of alcohol takes place quite rapidly to peak and then steadily, but slowly, declines; and alcohol absorption is influenced by the amount of alcohol in the drink, the amount of food in the stomach and the kind of beverage.
They noted that wine and beer have a slower absorption rate that produces a lower maximum blood alcohol level than pure alcohol diluted to the same proportion.
Abuse seems to be when you drink over 80 to 90 grams of alcohol on a daily basis (about five bottles/glasses). There is no doubt in my mind that one should take an occasional vacation from alcohol, perhaps one day a week or even more. The cumulative effects of alcohol use and abuse can have the long-term effect of producing alcohol dependency. I feel sad when I see old friends give up alcohol out of necessity, because they have become addicted after long years of abuse. They are no longer able to enjoy the good from alcohol. To me that is very sad indeed.