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Alcohol Trivia - Separating Fact from Fiction

For the last few years, I had a secret wish, and it's not something I've ever shared with anybody until now. Want to know my deep, dark secret?

I wanted to be a Frenchman.

The reason was simple. The French can eat foods high in saturated fat and sugar while still having one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. In 2003 only 7% of French people were obese, compared with 30% of Americans. It's been called the French Paradox.

Americans first learned about the French Paradox when epidemiologist Serge Renaud, Ph.D., appeared on 60 Minutes. Renaud explained that in France, people eat more fat, smoke more and exercise less and still have one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. And here's the really cool part, Renaud reasoned it was the alcohol (or more specifically, the red wine) that the French drink every day that helped them stay so fit and live so long.

Renaud's statements got another boost when scientists started talking about the anti-cancer properties of resveratrol, a compound that's relatively abundant in red wine. At last, we had the answer to long life. Eat fat, exercise less and smoke; just make sure to drink a glass of red wine every day.

Unfortunately, it isn't true.

What most news reports didn't mention was that the studies on resveratrol were conducted on mice, not humans. Oh, and the mice were getting as much resveratrol as would be found in 5 gallons of wine, not a glass a day.

In 2003 the real reason for the French Paradox was discovered. Scientists decided to compare foods in two cities, Paris and Philadelphia. They looked at things like serving sizes in restaurants, portion sizes in supermarkets and even recipe books. Guess what they found?

If you went out to eat in Paris, the average portion size was 25% smaller than Philadelphia. In Philly, soft drinks were 52% larger, hot dogs were 63% larger and a carton of yogurt was a whopping 82% larger.

Even cookbooks are sabotaging Americans. The cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, had larger meat and soup portions, and smaller vegetable servings than the French version Je sais cuisiner.

It wasn't the wine but the calories. When you eat more, you get fatter. I guess I don't want to be a Frenchman anymore! (See more information on the French Paradox explained below in the UPDATE section.)

Test your knowledge of other alcohol facts by taking our;

TRUE or FALSE Alcohol Quiz

1. Drinking a beer or two every day is not a significant source of calories.

FALSE - The average 12 ounce bottle of beer has 145 to 180 calories. Non-alcoholic or light beers can range from a low of 70 (O'Doul's) up to 134 calories (Michelob Light). Drinking as few as two beers a night can add one pound to your body in just ten days.

2. Any kind of alcohol (in moderation) once a day can be good for you.

PARTIALLY TRUE... BUT NOT WORTH THE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES - Drinking any alcohol in moderation, not just red wine, is believed to raise your good cholesterol (HDL). The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines moderation as approximately 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits for women and twice that for men.

AND FALSE - Unfortunately, there is evidence that alcohol consumption increases your risks of some cancers. There's also evidence that moderate drinkers may not be getting the health advantages once believed. If you're not currently imbibing, don't use health as an excuse to start.

3. Simple drinks are better. Wine and spirits have fewer calories than mixed drinks.

TRUE - Mixed drinks like a Godiva Chocolate Martini have 438 calories, and a Margarita has 340 calories in a single serving. Simple drinks like a flute of champagne has only 70 calories, and most beers are around 160 calories per 12 ounce bottle.

4. You don't have to count the calories in alcohol because you lose them when you pee.

FALSE - You've got to count the calories you drink exactly the same as the ones you eat. Your body doesn't treat calories in liquid form any different than calories in solid form.

How well did you do?

To help you remember just what alcohol can do to you, we would like to suggest the following warning label. Since there is no chance any alcohol company will put it on their bottles, we suggest you cut it out and carry it with you. Every time you order a drink, you should pull it out and read it out loud to reinforce in your mind the possible effects of the action you're about to take.

Warning! Drinking too much can cause blurred vision, uncontrollable urination, impotence, nausea or vomiting, excess weight gain including a "beer belly" and the firm belief that everything you say is brilliant and anyone who disagrees is just an ignorant turd.

Got the point?

UPDATE: Want to Quit Drinking?

Look for a doctor that's board-certified in addiction medicine. This website helps you find one near you.


Symptoms and Effects of Alcoholism

UPDATE: The French Paradox is also caused by doctors!

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) found that part of the reason for the French Paradox was flawed "cause of death" information. French physicians tend to mark down some other coexisting cause when people die of heart attacks. According to Theo Vos, one of the lead scientists at IHME, "That cultural practice accounts for about half of the so-called French paradox..."

UPDATE: Alcohol, even moderate amounts, can speed mental decline.

As little as one glass of wine or beer a day can hasten mental decline later in life, according to a study released on the 11th of May 2017 in BMJ. The amount of alcohol that can cause harm is lower than what was commonly believed. Even small amounts of daily consumption can have long-term negative impacts. The researchers said:

"Conclusions Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes, including hippocampal atrophy. These results support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the UK and question the current limits recommended in the US."

Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study

Anya Topiwala, clinical lecturer in old age psychiatry, Charlotte L Allan, academic clinical lecturer in old age psychiatry, Vyara Valkanova, specialist registrar in old age psychiatry, Enikő Zsoldos, postdoctoral scientist, Nicola Filippini, postdoctoral scientist, Claire Sexton, postdoctoral scientist, Abda Mahmood, research assistant, Peggy Fooks, medical student, Archana Singh-Manoux, professor of epidemiology and public health, Clare E Mackay, associate professor, Mika Kivimäki, professor, Klaus P Ebmeier, professor of old age psychiatry
The BMJ, Published 06 June 2017 - Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2353

Click Here for the Study

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Updated 2/8/2016
Updated 5/31/2016
Updated 8/3/2016
Updated 8/12/2017
Updated 7/31/2018
Updated 1/22/2022

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  • According to the Centers for Disease Control...

    Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death.

    This dangerous behavior accounted for approximately 88,000 deaths per year from 2006–2010, and accounted for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20–64 years. Excessive alcohol use shortened the lives of those who died by about 30 years. These deaths were due to health effects from drinking too much over time, such as breast cancer, liver disease, and heart disease, and health effects from consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, such as violence, alcohol poisoning, and motor vehicle crashes.

    A study, published in Preventing Chronic Disease, found that nearly 70% of deaths due to excessive drinking involved working-age adults, and about 70% of the deaths involved males. The study also found that about 5% of the deaths involved people younger than age 21.

    The impact of these deaths affects the nation's economy and the sustainability of families. Excessive drinking cost the United States about $224 billion, or $1.90 per drink, in 2006, and about 40% of these costs were paid by government. Most of these costs were due to lost productivity, including reduced earnings among excessive drinkers as well as deaths due to excessive drinking among working age adults.

    For more information from the Centers for Disease Control Click Here.

    Think having a drink or two a day is a healthy habit? Think again.

    Over the years there have been numerous studies that show taking one or two drinks of alcohol daily is a healthy habit. But then researchers decided to look into the health of the people who were NOT drinking. Turns out, former and occasional drinkers who stopped for health reasons were put into the same group a non-drinkers. When those "abstainers" were taken out of the mix, the actual non-drinkers had the best health outcomes and greatest longevity.

    In other words, people who don't drink at all have better health outcomes than low or moderate drinkers.

    Do “Moderate” Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Alcohol Consumption and All-Cause Mortality

    Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 77(2), 185–198 (2016).

    Click Here to download the study in PDF format.

    Click Here to read the original study online.