Many of us enjoy a wine or two over dinner with friends or a couple of cold beers on a hot summer day. I know I do.
It’s widely accepted that frequent binge drinking is bad for our health: it damages the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas and can, over time, increase cancer risk and compromise immune system function. It also causes, well… foolish decisions and behaviours, that can result in small embarrassments like unwanted photos on facebook or much bigger issues such as fetal alcohol syndrome and impaired driving.
Beyond the well-documented ill effects of binge drinking, the relationship between alcohol and our health is complex and controversial. Harvard’s School of Public Health describes alcohol as “both a tonic and a poison,” with the difference being a function of dose .
Moderate alcohol consumption (no more than 1 drink per day for women and men over 65 and no more than 2 per day for men; “drink” here is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of spirits) can improve cardiovascular health and reduce heart risk. It may even reduce the risk of stroke and diabetes . Beyond that is when the potential for behavioural and health problems take centre stage (but see this article for a slightly different perspective).
Practicing Buddhists subscribe to the idea of the Middle Path or the Middle Way, to finding the balance between the extremes of self-indulgence and harmful self-denial. This is also about providing the body with what it needs without excess. Without suggesting that anyone “needs” alcohol, I offer the Middle Path as a consideration while enjoying those glasses of red or frosty pints.