Brewing For My Health

Originally published: 10/2010 by J Wynia

In my last post, I mentioned that I've begun running and some other exercise as part of my quest to improve my health and decrease my risk of dying early. That activity was at the top of my list because it has a high return on investment and it's something where the effort IS the result.

That's in contrast with "losing weight", where complicated factors can mean that a tremendous effort can result in no change and no improvement in the metric that correlates with the risk of an early death.

The distinction has moved "losing weight" lower on my list than it used to be.

It's also responsible for the second item on my health improvement list: brewing and drinking beer.

Based on my experience with our culture, that statement probably alarmed more than a few of you. However, I assure you that this is actually a well thought out decision, based on good evidence.

It first came up when I was searching for the most impactful ways to reduce, in particular, heart disease. The following quote jumped out at me when I was digging around:

The American Heart Association, based on the research evidence, concludes that the "Consumption of one or two drinks per day is associated with a reduction in risk of (coronary heart disease) approximately 30% to 50%."

Read that twice. If there was a new drug, from one of the major drug companies that, when taken daily, cuts your risk of dying from heart disease by UP TO HALF, they'd be shouting it from the hilltops. For aspirin, which has a large, similar effect, we *do* hear all of the time about how it will help and doctors *do* put an awful lot of people my age and older on the low-dosage aspirin. However, I've never had anyone in the medical profession even hint at these facts when it comes to alcohol and heart disease.

So, I started digging deeper and kept coming up with more and more studies related to a reduction in risk of death. This article (on a university site) serves as a really nice summary of what the complete body of scientific study on this topic says. In short, the fact that I used to abstain from alcohol on all but a few days per year was actually one of my greatest risks for dying early.

That summary doesn't just talk about the benefits related to heart disease, but a whole range of other diseases and illnesses like Alzheimer's and Parkinsons. In other words, that cliche of a 100 year old person being asked what their secret to longevity is, and answering "a daily shot of whisky/beer/sake" may not be far off from reality.

Now, while I'm frustrated that this info wasn't shoved in front of me sooner, I understand why, even though I think that the reasons don't hold up.

See, the benefits are in a weird "U" shaped curve. If you don't drink at all, you have a high risk of dying early. If you drink more than 3 drinks per day, you have a high risk of dying early (though from different things from what I understand). Only in this narrow little band of 1-3 drinks per day and only when that level is actually consistent (no saving them all up for one day), does the big benefit exist.

I know that if this recommendation were generally made, people would miss the end of the "U" where drinking more than the 3 daily drinks eliminates the benefit. I know that's true, in part, because nearly every single person I've told about the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption has made the same joke: "Then I'm the healthiest person around because I drink a lot".

In online discussions of this research, I've seen people wonder "aloud" about "all of the people those drunk drivers kill" and heard people wonder aloud how I'll "function when I'm drunk all of the time". We have a seriously strange relationship with alcohol in this country.

Keep in mind that as an adult male of my weight and height, even under the newer 0.08 BAC standards, I'm OK to drive even after 5 beers and no waiting. Given that the benefits only exist at the 1-3 drinks per day level (and are therefore my exact level of drinking), I will never be in jeopardy for a driving violation. I won't ever reach anything resembling "drunk".

So, from about 2 months ago, I've been following the 1-3 drink regimen, like most humans historically and most places on earth other than the US.

Of course, because of how I tend to do things, rather than just going to the liquor store and picking up my "prescription", I've actually begun brewing my own beer and cider, a hobby that's proving enjoyable and paced appropriately given all of the other stuff I've got going on.

It's one of the few hobbies you can be really "into" while only putting in a few hours once every few weeks. I'm on a quest to brew what I want to drink. I think I'm on the right trail.

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