Abstinence from alcohol (no, you're not misreading this) is the second greatest cause (after smoking, and more than being overweight) of heart disease, the greatest killer of Americans - particularly middle-aged and older men (and almost as much so women), two-thirds of whom will die from coronary artery disease (CAD).
But every one of the American studies - now numbering in the hundreds - that finds alcohol significantly lowers CAD rates and mortality warns against people drinking for their health. One reason for their caution is the uncertainty of designating moderate drinking. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 1-2 drinks daily. But what if people's drinking sneaks upward - what if people have 3-4, or 5-6 drinks daily? And what about drinking so much you become alcoholic?
Americans are as acutely concerned about these things as any group of people who has ever lived, since a majority of us drink, yet so many of us watch intervention shows on television.
Which brings us back to drinking for health.
I drink for health. I grew up in a very abstemious Jewish household. That is, my parents didn't avoid drinking and alcohol, but they drank little. Although they sternly disapproved of intoxicated people we occasionally saw, they let me drink wine on holidays at an early age. Only it was that sticky sweet substance, Manischewitz, the taste of which may account for my own abstemiousness through college and afterwards, when I rarely drank - sometimes only a couple of drinks in an entire year.
I married a woman who had an alcoholic father, but a Rumanian (like Italian) mother. She was mindful of overdrinking, but tolerant of and comfortable with alcohol - much more so than I was. So we began drinking beer and wine (reassuring disclosure: this story does NOT end - like the Temperance Tale, "The Bottle" - with us and our children on the street). Eventually I learned to drink Scotch and vodka cocktails.
It took me a while - like forty years - but as I become eligible for Medicare today, I can comfortably consume and enjoy beer, wine, vodka, fruit punch with rum, and Irish coffee. My recent echocardiogram showed my system mercifully clear of plaque (fatty build-up on the walls of arteries) - praise the Lord! Of course, I need to watch my diet and exercise and lose weight (unlike you, dear reader).
But I do have one important healthy habit, which I conscientiously apply myself to - the regular, reasonable consumption of alcohol. And I enjoy it. And it is doubly beneficial if it is shared with like-minded people in positive surroundings.
Now all I have to do is remember to enjoy exercise and moderate eating!
Picture: Sean Penn being toasted as the title character in the film Milk.