Thursday, May 24, 2007

Health, Science, Lies and Truth: The Nanny State and Demon Rum

Health, Science, Lies and Truth: The Nanny State and Demon Rum
One of the somewhat distressing trends in American society over the last 30 years is an apparent increase in the level of what I will call "busybody nannyism." It is a favorite hobby by both the right and the left, although they differ in what they want to control, either by overt messages or legislative penalties.

People on the left tend to worry a lot about people eating things that are bad for them and about commercials that our children watch and certainly tobacco.

People on the right worry about people looking at too many pictures of naked people, although looking at pictures of dead naked people may be O.K. with them. Tobacco doesn't bother them so much, but marijuana and other drugs tend to put people on the right into fits and conniptions. (perhaps such pleasurable conniptions that people on the right don't need to use illegal drugs?--just a hypothesis).

Alcohol is probably hated by both the right and the left. Certainly, it is the greatest killer of all ingested mood-altering substances. But one thing that is particularly distressing about the American approach to dissuade people from drinking(as well as marijuana) is that it is often based upon providing people, and minors in particular, with either misleading or outright false information.

With respect to marijuana, the Bush administration states over and over that it is one of the most dangerous drugs of all and that this is proven by the fact that more people seek treatment for marijuana dependence than any other drug. This may be true, but the Bush people neglect to point out that virtually all of the treatment is court-ordered for people who would end up in jail otherwise. Their little statistic is not very impressive once one understands (as any criminal defense attorney can tell you) the true workings behind it.

Getting back to alcohol, the connumdrum is that alcohol appears to be healthful in restricted amounts, but it is unclear exactly what amounts constitute excessive use. American doctors tend to recommend no more than 1-2 units for women and no more than 2-3 units for men. Surprisingly, or rather, not surprisingly, governments in France and Europe tend to recommend the larger amount of no more than 3-5 units for men.

In terms of weekly recommendations, when compared to the countries most like the U.S., which are probably Canada, New Zealand and Australia, these nations have recommendations from 20 percent to 40 percent higher than the American recommendation for weekly consumption.

Even worse, the United States, together with several of the other nations that flirted with prohibition during the last century, flatly lies to women regarding the reasonably anticipated dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and recommends total abstinence during pregnancy. Only the UK and Australia provide women with recommendations regarding drinking alcohol during pregnancy, which are based upon science. The Australian recommendation is no more than 2 per day for pregnant women and no more than 7 per week.

Here is the reality:

The American College of Obstreticians and Gynecologists concludes that "there is no evidence that an occasional drink is harmful. Women who drink heavily throughout pregnancy may have smaller babies with physical and mental handicaps, but women who drink moderately may have babies with no more problems than those women who drink rarely or not at all."

This group of medical specialists points out that "It's hard to determine the amount and timing of alcohol consumption that puts the fetus at risk. One study shows that women who drank only occasionally and moderately (described in this particular study as between 1 and 45 drinks spaced out over a month) had babies with no more problems than those women who drank rarely or not at all. There were no differences either in size or nmber of babies' handicaps bwtween the women who drank moderately and those who abstained or drank likely."

Most of the children affected by FAS in the United States come from either African-American or Native American households and the condition was caused by drinking patterns far, far in excess of the stated recommendations, truly by a pattern that most people would characterize as chronic alchoholism.

Alcohol is not, unlike say LSD or cocaine, a substance without a long history of human use. When taken to clear excess, it can result in blood poisoning, violent behavior, severally impaired coordination and cirrhosis of the liver. Women who become pregnant and who are chronic alcoholics run a heightened risk of delivering a child with FAS.

Nevertheless, alcohol has been prevalent in virtually every culture for thousands of years. It has nutritional value, particularly when consumed in the form of dark beer or red wines and is certainly here to stay. Given this reality, it seems that the more honest and prudent approach is to provide Americans with correct and accurate information, based upon science, not upon prohibition.

I will post a link below to the book, the French Paradox, which has some interesting viewpoints about the scientific studies done thus far. In a nutshell, it can be argued that the current daily recommended units could be almost doubled without harmful health effects. Second, there is an interesting hypothesis that alcohol only begins to cause damage to the human organism after someone reaches a blood alcohol content of .046. If correct, a person could conceivably drink far more units per day safely, provided he allowed his blood alchol content to wane before ingesting more. Two glasses of red wine at lunch, followed by two glasses at dinner and one after-dinner drink could conceivably be harmless, even healthful, given the beneficial substances contained in red wine.

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