Saturday, December 14, 2013

Why You Should Be Drinking Whisky: The Balance of Alcohol's Effects On Health

CNN featured an article yesterday (December 12, 2013) warning:

James Bond at risk of early death from alcohol, study says

CNN: "James Bond may want to reconsider his drinking habits, a new study says"

Tongue in cheek and serious at the same time, the article was prompted by an actual academic paper published in the British Medical Journal written by a trio of medical researchers where they tallied up the drinking in Fleming's novels and concluded that James Bond ought to be dead.  Just from drinking that is.

Too bad Bond didn't drink whisky.  [Sheepish Correction (thanks Eric): he drinks a ton of whisky in the books.  In the books Bond drinks a variety, but primarily whisky.  In the movies he regularly prefers vodka martinis, shaken, not stirred.  So it's wrong to say "Bond didn't drink whisky".  Now I'd change it to "Too bad Bond didn't drink whisky thoughtfully."]  While slamming back Vespers seems to be the mode of consumption in the white spirits world; and slamming seems pretty prevalent in the flavored booze, and cocktail worlds too, whisky invites a different kind of drinking (and I'm excluding the doing of shots - which I don't recommend from an epicurean perspective).  Whisky drinkers tend to sip slow and take their time.  This way of drinking whisky - the thoughtful way of true tasting - was enshrined in Jason Debly's manifesto "Slow Whisky Movement".  If you've never read it, take a moment and please read it now and then come back:

Did you catch the gist?  Be Zen.  Cut distractions, truly meditate on the totality of the experience, and know from the get go that you are just having the one dram.  That exclusivity... that monogamy with the dram will make you truly inhabit it.  This manifesto wasn't written with health in mind - but it results in truly affirmative healthy drinking - as well as excellent whisky epicureanism.  ...even if you cheat and end up having two...

That's because moderation is the key to enjoying the benefits of alcohol - if you are going to drink anyway.  This is how the Mayo Clinic article on "Healthy Eating" begins to discuss alcohol consumption:

"It sounds like a mixed message: Drinking alcohol may offer some health benefits, especially for your heart. On the other hand, alcohol may increase your risk of health problems and damage your heart.  So which is it? When it comes to drinking alcohol, the key is doing so only in moderation."

Today's guest blogger on The Coopered Tot is health writer Claire Gilbert who has taken the time to make a well supported argument for why moderate drinking is good for you.  This is hardly news - but it bears repeating, particularly in light of the more frequent press about how alcohol can kill you.  Make no mistake - the key here is moderate drinking.

Balancing the bad with the good

When taken to excess no one is going to dispute that alcohol in any form can increase the risk of damage to your liver and nervous system. Drinking heavily can also raise your blood pressure, which can cause damage to the blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of heart disease. This habit can equally place you at risk of certain cancers and is also tough on your digestive system. Your immune system doesn’t escape either, as heavy drinking suppresses your immune function so your white blood cells are less likely to fight off infections, which you may be at greater risk of contracting any way if the impact on your decision-making means you take part in more risky activities that leaves you vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted diseases. However, with your altered judgement this may not be the only thing that you regret, as drinking to excess also makes you more likely to have an accident – particularly if you get behind a wheel – or to get in trouble with the law. However, none of these situations are inevitable when you drink alcohol, as the key is how much you drink. If you’re able to moderate your intake, sensible drinking won’t lead to these problems and you’ll gain a range of benefits from doing so.

Health gains from alcohol

Asked which alcohol if any is good for you and most people will say red wine. However, while red wine has been shown to be advantageous for heart health, any form of alcohol can be beneficial for your circulation and other parts of your body. That means if you prefer whiskey or brandy to wine, you can still reap the benefits of drinking sensibly over the week.

Drinking from middle age onward, when the risks of developing heart disease begin to increase, can protect your heart and blood vessels in a number of ways. Firstly, moderate consumption of alcohol increases the production of HDL cholesterol, the form that carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver for removal from the body, which helps to retain a healthy blood flow through the arteries. Then there is the fact that drinking moderately reduces the production of fibrinogen, one of the proteins that promote blood clot formation, thereby decreasing the likelihood of a blockage in one of the blood vessels. Levels of inflammation in the body, insulin resistance (where the body struggles to lower blood sugars) and triglycerides (another type of blood fat) – all risk factors for cardiovascular disease – are also reduced.

A number of other chronic health problems appear to be reduced when you drink sensibly. For instance, one or two alcoholic drinks daily have been found to reduce your risk of diabetes by around 30%, while no benefit was seen in people who don’t drink any alcohol. Similarly, around a measure and a half of spirit each day may help to reduce your likelihood of gallstones by about a third. Far from being detrimental to your mental function, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has also been shown to protect against dementia. Looking beyond your cognitive function, drinking alcohol may help to promote other aspects of your mental well-being, as it has the ability to lift your mood and reduce stress when taken in measured amounts. What’s more, social benefits gained from drinking with friends, family and co-workers can further help to boost your mental health.

Getting the benefits

With all this talk of moderate drinking, what does that actually mean? Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans this translates as up to one alcoholic beverage daily for women and up to two for men. As far as spirits go this is equivalent to 1.5 fluid ounce shot, but if you also like a tipple of something else, for beer, lager and cider this means 12 fluid ounces and for wine 5 fluid ounces. Follow these guidelines and you’ll enjoy more than just a good drink, but good health into the bargain.

- Claire Gilbert.

So - as the Holiday drinking season rolls around, remember to drink your whisky.  But sip it slow


  1. If drinking protects against dementia, then why are there so many demented people out there collecting whisky as an investment? Oh, wait, that question answers itself...

    1. Exactly. They need to crack those investment bottles and drink them!

  2. Too bad Bond didn't drink whisky.

    I beg to differ. This was a cool blog post I found via Google:

    1. I stand corrected! Bond did drink whisky. There goes my argument!

    2. This post clarifies the Bond drinking preference pattern confusion. The books - germane since the medical study analyzes the books - show Bond drinking a wide variety of alcoholic drinks - particularly whisky. The movies focus strongly on the vodka martini Vesper drinking Bond.

      "What is James Bond's favorite drink?


      In the James Bond novels he drinks a total of 317 drinks. His favourite drink is a straight whiskey (101 total) He has 30 glasses of champagne, and in "You Only Live Twice" he has 35 sakes. The Vodka Martini tallies up a measly 19 totals. Only slightly over the gin martinis- 16.

      In the movies, his signature drink is the "vodka martini, shaken, not stirred", but in the 2006 relaunch starring Daniel Craig ("Casino Royale" II), Bond first defines the drink (a "Vesper") then notably dismisses this as pretentious ("Do I look like I give a damn?")."'s_favorite_drink

    3. No problem!

      Another fun fact: Live and Let Die is currently the only Bond movie where he NEVER orders a martini. The producers had intended the film to be a reboot of the series (which is what Casino Royale later did) so familiar elements from the Sean Connery films were dropped or under-emphasized like the martinis and cigars instead of cigarettes. So Roger Moore's Bond orders a whiskey and water (aka bourbon and branch) twice in the film but never gets a chance to drink them thanks to circumstances beyond his control.

  3. More support for the argument that whisky is the healthier booze:

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