Editorial: A wonderful beer life

By Gregg Smith

When beer drinkers think back over the past year or so, they'll recall a period unlike any other in beer history. What made it so different had nothing to do with the state of the industry. There were no great leaps in brewing technology, no introduction of fabulous new beer styles, no reductions in craft beer prices, and congress passed no brew-friendly legislation. What was notable were the release of several scientific studies. Of benefit to the consumer, the reports verified what we thought all along - Beer's good for you.

Little more than a year ago drinkers were stunned by a Department of Agriculture announcement that consumption of one alcoholic drink per day promoted health. Shortly after, officials from human services issued a supporting statement. Suddenly the government was saying it was okay to drink.

It leaves us wondering - 'what took so long?' Over 200 years ago Dr. Benjamin Rush was credited with undertaking the first scientific study on the consequences associated with drinking. Rush was appointed the country's first 'Physician-General of the Continental Army', a fore-runner of today's 'Surgeon General', and he issued a pamphlet entitled "Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body and Mind." Within his work Rush suggested beer produced no harm; furthermore, he postulated that moderate consumption improved health and enriched life.

In the wake of the government reports it seemed as though Dr. Rush was finally acknowledged. Of more importance, supportive findings quickly appeared. First was a report that beer had an equal or better effect on health than red wine. Authorities confirmed that moderate amounts of alcohol, such as that obtained from beer, enhanced physical well being. Throughout the country bottle caps popped in celebration of the news, but the best was yet to come.

In early December of '97 the American Cancer society revealed findings generated by the largest study ever conducted on the effects of drinking. Unique in its approach, the researchers attempted to consider both positive and negative effects of drinking and to calculate the overall effect on human health. Negative influences of consumption were reviewed and risk factors associated with increased chance of liver damage, breast cancer and the like were weighed against any good derived from alcohol.

Surveying 490,000 people over a nine year period, the American Cancer Society calculated the results only when 10% of those enlisted in the study died. What they found was astonishing. After adjusting the figures to include the full impact of negative effects they discovered that men and women who had at least one drink a day averaged a 21 percent lower risk of death than nondrinkers. Moreover, drinkers reduced their risk of heart disease by 30 to 40 percent. In part, the lower chance of heart disease was attributed to higher levels of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) produced through moderate alcohol consumption. In fact, contrary to previously held beliefs, those who already suffered from heart disease had the greatest gain from drinking. Additional figures provided further encouragement.

What if you sometimes exceed that drink-a-day advice, or what if you 'save' them up to happily guzzle all at once during the weekend? Breathe easy, the report also contained good news for you. Averaging four or five drinks a day continued to reduce the likelihood of death by over 10 percent.

Responses from those usually voicing opposition was unexpectedly conciliatory. Head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Enoch Gordis, was quoted as saying "...since it was done so carefully with a large number of people. I think it is a valuable piece of work." Indeed, the figures were backed by independent research conducted in the Nurses Health Study and Physicians Health Study associated with Harvard University. Their study found a 17 percent lower chance of death in women drinkers and a corresponding 22 percent lower death rate in men, well in step with the 21 percent reduction found by the American Cancer Society.

Of course the reports all indicate the best results were obtained through moderate drinking, a position supported for years by this publication. It's great news. Remember Grandma saying the greatest gift of all was good health? Maybe she knew even more than we thought. Regardless, it makes the past year or so one of significance for beer drinkers. It vindicates our enjoyable consumption; it literally says that not only is beer good for what 'Ales' you, it's a part of good health.

Gregg Smith


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