Sidebar Three

Beware of "Popular" Alcohol Advice

Occasionally, you'll read quotes in this book that came from other general interest health books. On the whole, those books are accurate and very helpful. But when it comes to alcohol, they sometimes let inaccurate, outdated or out-of-context information slip into their texts.

Because you may buy those books and find their alcohol information at odds with this one, the following section examines their quotes and then provides you with the correct information. While these are exact quotes from books in print, the specific title is not mentioned because there's no reason to cast doubt on the other fine information they impart.

THE QUOTE: "More careful analyses of the studies cited above [showing moderate drinkers to have lower death rates than abstainers or heavy drinkers]."

THE FACTS: This criticism was first raised in 1988 and all of the studies conducted since then, including the 15 published in 1990 and 1991, correct for this possibility. It does not at all alter the findings that moderate consumers of alcohol live longer than abstainers or heavy drinkers.

THE QUOTE: "One reason why people who drink 'moderately' may live longer is that they have more social support than others who do not drink ... I suspect that the same benefits would result from having social support in activities not centered around alcohol."

THE FACTS: What this author "suspects" is not only unproved in humans, it is directly disproved by animal studies. As cited in another chapter in this book, rabbits fed water, ethanol diluted with water, beer, spirits, red and white wine revealed that the rabbits getting only water had far more atherosclerotic lesions in their coronary arteries than the other rabbits. Those rabbits who fared best were the ones fed red wine, followed by those fed white wine. The animal studies pretty well eliminate socio-economic factors.

THE QUOTE: "Alcohol has a direct, toxic effect on the heart."

THE FACTS: This is true only for blood alcohol concentration levels reached by sustained heavy drinking and abuse.

THE QUOTE: "Drinking less than one drink per day has been found to double the risk of hemorrhagic stroke."

THE FACTS: While this has been found in some -- but not all -- studies, hemorrhagic strokes are rate compared with heart disease. Moreover, alcohol consumption may help prevent occlusive strokes, which occur nine to ten times as often as hemorrhagic strokes. The fact that strokes are relatively rate compared with coronary artery disease counts for the overall lower death rates from all causes for moderate drinkers.

THE QUOTE: "Alcohol is a major factor in most accidents at work and at home."

THE FACTS: Simply incorrect. There are no data to support this. In fact, data do say that most accidents are caused by human carelessness, not alcohol. Moderate drinkers miss fewer days of work than abstainers.

THE QUOTE: "Somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of all fatal traffic accidents are alcohol-related."

THE FACTS: Each death from drunk driving is doubly tragic because it is entirely preventable. Do not drink and drive. The U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that approximately 45 to 50 percent of all traffic fatalities are alcohol-related. Alcohol-related means that alcohol was found in anyone in the car. NHSTA figures indicate that alcohol may cause about half of all alcohol-related accidents: in other words, alcohol causes about a quarter of all traffic fatalities. While significantly lower than the popular wisdom, this figure is unacceptably high because it is entirely preventable.

Of people arrested for drunken driving, only 2 percent reported drinking wine; 54 percent drank beer; 23 percent liquor and the remainder a mixture of drinks, according to the U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics' 1988 publication, Special Report: Drunk Driving.

THE QUOTE: "There are two types of HDL [good cholesterol]: HDL2 and HDL3. HDL2 helps to protect against coronary heart disease, but HDL3 does not. Alcohol raises HDL3."

THE FACTS: While alcohol does raise HDL3 more than HDL2, both types of HDL protect against coronary disease.

THE QUOTE: "That alcoholic nightcap might actually result in sleep problems."

THE FACTS: While heavy drinking can result in sleep disturbances, moderate consumption does not.

THE QUOTE: "Alcohol raises blood pressure in those trying to control their hypertension."

THE FACTS: Moderate consumption can actually lower blood pressure; heavy drinkers tend to have hypertension.

THE QUOTE: "It appears that any alcohol consumption, but especially three, four or more drinks daily, leads to enlargement of the heart."

THE FACTS: One study (the Framingham study) has indicated that steady use of alcohol has a dose-related effect on heart size. While moderate consumption can decrease blood pressure and help protect the coronary arteries from atherosclerosis, heavy drinking (more than five drinks per day) can have unhealthy consequences. But even heavy drinking has a relatively small effect on the heart -- less than the effect of smoking, high blood pressure or exercise, all of which enlarge the heart. Chronic alcoholics can develop pathological heart enlargement over many years.


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