There was an article in the New York Daily News earlier this week, though actually it was a question answered by a physician who refers to himself as “The Running Doc™.” The fact that it’s trademarked is, I think, pretty funny, but I suppose there’s no reason why he can’t brand himself like anyone else.
A reader from upstate New York asks the doc if “beer is a cure for an upset stomach and kidney stones” and “[i]s drinking beer now a medical treatment?” But he begins his question with a request. “Please don’t laugh!” In this day and age, I suppose I should be happy enough with Dr. Maharam’s response. “I am really NOT laughing. Your friends are smart — beer actually does have some medicinal purposes. In moderation, obviously.” The Running Doc™ goes on to mention a handful of scientific studies that suggest drinking in moderation is good for what ales you, though considering how much there is now in the scientific literature, it’s a very small drop in the ocean of the body of ways in which responsible alcohol consumption can provide health benefits. And naturally he mentions the recent studies that suggest a beer after exercising — or running — but not the pièce de résistance, that total mortality is improved by moderate drinking.
Honestly, re-reading Lewis G. Maharam, MD’s response in The Running Doc says beer — especially ginger beer — has medicinal value but only in moderation, I think his answer is pretty good, and he at least treats the question seriously and also mentions that there is a body of scientific work that supports the idea of health benefits for drinking alcohol.
What bothers me, and was more of a camel’s back-breaking straw, was that he felt the need to mention, over and over again, moderation. It’s in the title, it’s the photo caption, and he mentions it twice more in the body of a very short article. Does it need mentioning? Maybe, but every time anyone from the medical or scientific community talks about any health benefits from drinking alcohol, they always qualify their statements with warnings like this. Really, they go out of their way to hit you over the head with them, as if we all need to hear it multiple times, or we might not understand. Is there really anyone alive today who’s missed the prohibitionist’s message that drinking too much is bad for you? It’s like the warning labels on packs of cigarettes; totally unnecessary, but covering their asses.
If the mounting evidence is showing, overwhelmingly, that alcohol can be good for you, then let’s just say so. We all know that a hamburger is a good source of protein but no one’s confused or has to be told that eating a ton of red meat might not be the best thing for your heart. Can they really be worried someone will go on a binge and blame the doctor for telling them it was okay to drink, saying they didn’t realize that they couldn’t just drink as much as they wanted? Honestly, this is, I think, the results of the bullying tactics of the prohibitionists, who’ve shouted down anyone who has a kind word to say about alcohol. They’ve made any health claims on beer labels verboten, tried their damnedest to limit where alcohol can be advertised, sold and even consumed, even by consenting adults. They’ve made it illegal in some states for parents to even educate their own children about it, while at the same time using only alarmist, fraudulent educational materials to lie to those same kids in public schools.
At this point, we all know that a beer or two a day can be good for us, both for physical and mental health, and over the past few decades, the scientific literature has caught up with what beer lovers have known all along. The only way to stop a bully is to stop giving him his power. Stand up to him, or her. If beer can be healthy, let’s say so. Sure, it’s best in moderation, but let’s not forget that numerous studies have shown that even drinking too much is, in the long run, better for you than not drinking at all. Overall mortality is improved most by moderate drinking, more so than by people who completely abstain, and yet even people who overindulge tend to live longer than the teetotalers, so all this qualifying of the results by medical science is not really helping anyone, it’s just continuing to pander to the prohibitionists, keeping the bullies mollified.
[Illustration by artist John Hendrix in the September 2012 issue of Runner’s World.]