Is the Party Over? The Latest Research on the Pros and Cons of Drinking Alcohol

By Kristin Ohlson, November/December 2009

Scientists spill the truth about drinking and your health.

"I look forward to relaxing in the evening with a glass of red wine. If it's Friday....more likely two! We need to always consider our family health history, and remember to drink responsibly. Kudos to Kristen Ohlson for writing such an...

I was so happy with the French paradox. This was the phrase researchers came up with in the early 1990s to explain the completely not-fair scenario of how the French were indulging in duck confit (duck cooked in lots of fat, a waiter once explained to me) and buttery croissants while not only remaining thin but also having fewer heart attacks. So not fair to Americans who were glumly gnawing broiled chicken breasts and low-fat cookies and buying increasingly outlandish books about losing weight, only to find themselves fatter than ever and just as likely to get heart disease.

But the French paradox offered a bonbon of hope. Some researchers suggested that the secret to French coronary health was, in part, the red wine sipped over the course of a long, leisurely dinner.

I began having wine with my dinner too. And even if I finished my second glass while hunched over the sink scouring pots, I still felt a bit of that French glamour. As if it were Edith Piaf wailing in the background, not Bruce Springsteen.

Then I heard someone say that drinking moderate amounts of any alcohol was good for the heart. While wine is thought to have hundreds of substances, such as resveratrol (an antioxidant found in the skin of grapes linked with cardiovascular benefits and cancer prevention), that favorably affect health, I, too, began reading the reports that suggested that any form of alcohol increases “good” cholesterol, decreases inflammation and “thins” the blood, making dangerous blood clots less likely. Lo, another door to the good life opened! I didn’t learn to mix anything fancier than a vodka-and-tonic at home, but when my girlfriends and I went out we ordered drinks that were considerably more exotic, with silly names: the Coexistence Collins, the Rose of Warsaw, Bluebeard’s Passion. (Surely, no one has more fun coming up with names than cocktail designers and breeders of thoroughbred racehorses.) It was easy to feel downright virtuous as we sipped our drinks, especially as we heard about new studies suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption also lessened the risk of stroke and increased bone density.

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