The Science of Healthy Drinking
Twenty-four years ago, the very first issue of All About Beer Magazine mentioned recent research into alcohol and cardiac health. The conclusion: moderate alcohol consumption is good for you. People were surprised and skeptical.
Last year, we published a lengthy feature that summarized two decades of peer-reviewed scientific studies of alcohol consumption and human health. The conclusion: moderate alcohol consumption is good for you. Same surprise and skepticism.
If we found these reactions frustrating, they must drive Gene Ford bonkers.
Ford has been publishing and speaking on the connection between moderate alcohol consumption and health since the 1980s. InThe Science of Healthy Drinking, he pursues two major themes: first, that there is an impressive body of scientific literature documenting a positive link between moderate consumption of alcohol and a host of human health conditions; and, second, that the persistent American antipathy towards alcohol prevents the public from learning about these results.
Ford devotes most of the book—and the bulk of its 80-page bibliography—to the effects of alcohol on thirty common health conditions. He begins with the cluster of conditions related to the cardiovascular system, then documents the research on cancers, brain function, diabetes, gallstones, and diet, among other topics.
At the head of each chapter is a useful, short abstract, followed by several bulleted points. The chapter then opens with an explanation of the medical condition, and an assessment of its impact on human health. Ford then summarizes the state of research into the association between alcohol consumption and the condition. He also sets the alcohol research into the wider context of research into the health condition: for example, when discussing cardiovascular health, he touches on the contributions of diet, activity and cigarette smoking.
Ford is even-handed in pointing out the conditions in which alcohol consumption is associated with increased, rather than decreased health risks, such has been found in some studies of breast cancer. But he also encourages a holistic view of health risk assessment: in the case of cancer, for example, women are encouraged to “evaluate many factors, including family history of breast cancer. They should also check the comparative risks for heart disease and breast cancer.”
In each chapter on a medical condition, Ford underscores the themes that will take up the concluding chapters of the book: American culture is singularly ambivalent — even hostile — towards alcohol; authorities presume that the public cannot distinguish between healthful use and unhealthy abuse of alcohol; policies are designed to reduce alcohol abuse by lowering consumption for all; and the medical establishment and the media withhold or underreport findings that would help Americans make more informed health choices.
Ford clearly hopes The Science of Healthy Drinking will reach physicians and parents, the two most influential groups in shaping our health choices. With luck, open-minded members of both groups will read it. There are others for whom any good news about alcohol will always be unwelcome.
Though well written, this is probably not a book I would read cover-to-cover. However, I plan to keep it handy and turn to it when a specific question arises, grateful someone else has done the hard work of synthesizing all this material in a responsible and accessible way.