The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Aspects of Alcohol Consumption in America

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

As I sit at my computer contemplating this week’s column, I find myself caught in the dichotomy between the benefits and pitfalls of wine (and other alcoholic beverages) consumption.

Over the course of years of my research and reporting, I’ve concluded, backed by numerous reliable scientific studies, that moderate consumption of red wine has numerous medical benefits.

Last week, I read a disturbing study concluding that more and more Americans are indulging in excessive alcohol consumption, resulting in a startling rise in alcohol addiction. Let me clarify that the term alcohol, as defined by the federal government, includes all forms of alcoholic beverages. (Setting a level playing field, the USDA defines a five-ounce glass of wine to be comparable to a 12-ounce glass of beer and a 1.5-ounce glass of spirits.)

This presents the moral dilemma I face. Advocating even moderate consumption of wine may lead to higher levels of consumption, endangering your health. How do I incorporate these findings into my baseline of wine reporting?

Herein, the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of alcohol consumption, with a particular emphasis on wine.

The good:

  1. The healthy components of wine are its antioxidants, which protect our healthy cells and destroy dangerous cells. These antioxidants are dominant in red wine, not white wine. Specific antioxidants, polyphenols, have been proven the most helpful in our quest for healthy lives. A specific form of polyphenol, resveratrol, has been isolated as the key compound that provides the greatest health benefits. The health benefits of red wine are numerous when it’s consumed in moderation: two glasses (five-ounce portions) per day for males, one glass for females.
  2. Resveratrol has been scientifically proven a health aid, protecting the heart and brain, preventing cancers, fighting cancers, reversing diabetes and obesity, boosting the immune system and slowing the aging process. As with many studies, one must evaluate the underlying assumptions and parse the conclusions.

The bad:

  1. The amount of resveratrol necessary to achieve any meaningful benefit cannot be reasonably consumed by moderate consumption. It would require mass quantities a day for an extended period. However, resveratrol-in-a-capsule, sans alcohol and calories, is now available and can be purchased from many reputable supplement companies. A concentrated 100-milligram capsule a day contains the equivalent of the resveratrol in 100 glasses of wine
  2. The effects of alcohol consumption vary per individual tolerances and metabolisms. Excessive consumption may lead to liver disease, heart disease, liver and breast cancer and multiple other health issues. A 2014 CDC study defined excessive consumption as eight or more drinks a week for women and 15 or more drinks a week for men. Applying that definition to the drinking habits of Americans yields a startling result: one in three adults drinks excessively.

The ugly:

  1. Last week’s study was conducted by a government agency, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It interviewed about 40,000 adults, comparing results from 2001-02 interviews to those conducted in 2012-13.

The initial findings indicated that more Americans consumed alcohol over the 11-year period, increasing a startling 11 percent.

  1. Over the survey period, alcohol use disorder, as clinically defined, increased 67 percent to 29.9 million Americans. But as disconcerting as this statistic may be, the increase in subgroups causes grave concern. Abuse among women increased 84 percent; the oldest Baby Boomers 107 percent, African Americans 93 percent and low-income earners (below $20,000) 66 percent.

In media coverage, this increasing disorder has been overshadowed by the opioid crisis; in fact, it afflicts nearly 30 million Americans and is a much more prevalent epidemic than opioids.

Dr. Bridget Grant, the lead author of the study, offers these words of measured encouragement: “People also need to be aware there is effective treatment, both behavioral, cognitive and pharmacological for alcohol problems and a lot of people don’t know that so we need a big education campaign.”

So, continue to enjoy your glass of wine with your meal. As long as your meal isn’t a bowl of salted peanuts while you’re sitting on a bar stool for several hours.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

 

 

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