We’ve been told for years that a nutritious apple a day helps to keep the doctor away. But could alcohol have the same result during this holiday season and the New Year? Or, is alcohol a wolf in sheep’s clothing, detrimental to our well-being?

I recently mentioned during a talk that I believed that alcohol in moderation was the best medicine ever invented. The audience responded with a big applause. But was it justified?

Critics damn alcohol because some people abuse it. I agree when people are killed by drunken drivers. But no one bans cars because some idiots cause needless deaths.

My research on alcohol dates back many years. Why? Because I’ve always enjoyed a moderate drink and wanted to know if it was evil or medicinal. In 1981, Dr. Arthur Klasky, chief of cardiology at the Kaiser Permanente Center in California, said, “There is no evidence that one or two drinks a day is harmful. There is fairly strong evidence that alcohol may decrease the chance of heart attack.”

Dr Charles Hennekens at The Harvard Medical School agreed. He reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that patients who consumed either 4 ounces of liquor, 12 ounces of wine or 40 ounces of beer or less a day had fewer coronary deaths than non-drinkers.

Another researcher, Dr Joseph Barboniak from the College of Medicine of Wisconsin, studied the coronary arteries of 2,000 patients. He concluded alcohol helps to clear the rust out of the heart’s arteries.

I like to remember this study. Researchers collected 100 identical twins with only one major difference. One twin was a moderate drinker, the other a teetotaler and their health was followed for many years. Finally the project had to be discontinued. Why? Because all the non-drinkers had died!

But why is alcohol heart-heathy? Moderate amounts decrease the bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. Possibly more important, alcohol makes blood platelets, tiny particles that are part of the blood coagulation process, more slippery so they’re less likely to form a fatal blood clot.


There are also over 20 world studies that show moderate drinkers live longer than teetotalers and those who abuse alcohol.

Other researchers disagree. They say the alcohol-coronary relationship is just another gimmick. In effect, it’s similar to theories suggesting that corn oil, brewer’s yeast and garlic are effective preventive measures.

Other critics contend that personality is more important than alcohol consumption. For instance, relaxed people have fewer heart attacks and they’re also moderate drinkers. On the other hand, type A individuals, who want to conquer the world, are often heavy drinkers.

What about those who have survived a heart attack? If this event destroyed a significant amount of cardiac muscle, then the pumping action of the heart has lost some strength. The last thing needed is the loss of more strength resulting in congestive heart failure.

Studies show too that excessive drinking does damage cardiac muscle. This is why drinking days should cease. Others suggest that if there are no symptoms of failure, “moderate” drinking is a reasonable option.

Sir William Osler counselled, “Alcohol is for the elderly what milk is for the young.” I say amen to that. I believe that the “Happy Hour” for seniors would provide more medicinal benefit than a cartload of pills.

So enjoy the holiday season. But never forget the tragedy of excessive indulgence.

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