If general practitioner doctors fail to recommend alcohol to at least some of their patients, they should be had up for medical negligence, suggests Tony Edwards, writer of "Alcohol is good for your health: leading science writer claims tipple can prevent cancer and may help improve your sex life."
That, at least, is the logical conclusion I’ve drawn from an in-depth study of around half-a-million scientific papers about alcohol.
To my surprise, they contained findings that would make any pharmaceutical company uncork the champagne. Except they never will, of course, because alcohol can’t be patented as a drug.
Most of the evidence suggests that if red wine, in particular — and to a lesser degree white wine, beer, lager and spirits — were used as a preventive and therapeutic medicine, disease rates would fall substantially. Not only that, but lives would be saved — with huge benefits to the economy.
In fact, red wine may well be one of the most effective ‘medications’ in history.
Like other drugs, it has side-effects. It has a minimum and maximum therapeutic dose — take too little and it won’t work; take too much and it may make you ill.
And it has a daily treatment regime: ideally, you should take wine once a day with the evening meal.
Yes, daily. I know that the medical profession urges us to stop drinking at least two or three days a week, but this isn’t borne out by scientific studies. These consistently show that daily moderate drinking is the best for health.
OK, but what is a moderate amount? Unfortunately, that’s where it gets a bit more complicated, because the prevention and treatment of different diseases seem to require differing amounts — varying from a small to a large glass a day, but sometimes more.
Of course, most people already know red wine is supposed to be good for your heart. But, that aside, the endlessly repeated public message is that alcohol is Bad News.
Now, I’d be foolish to deny that over-indulging in booze can be harmful to society. You need only think of alcohol-fuelled crime, road deaths, city centre mayhem, domestic violence, and costs to the NHS.
But to show only one side of the picture, as government and medical authorities inevitably do, is simply bad medicine. It prevents people making sensible decisions about their own health.
Why haven’t doctors ever come clean about all this? The reason is fairly obvious: they don’t trust us.
One shining exception is Professor Karol Sikora, the UK-based consultant oncologist who’s written the foreword to my new book about the benefits of alcohol.
Red wine seems to be the most beneficial, but as with any medicine taking too much can be harmful
Too much booze, he warns, not only kills but ‘ruins lives, destroys families, ends successful careers, causes untold physical and mental illness and has a huge adverse impact on society’.
However, he continues: ‘If you don’t drink at all, you have a defined risk of developing all sorts of medical problems in your heart, joints, brain, blood sugar levels, and kidneys — indeed all round your body.
‘As you begin to drink, there seems to be evidence of benefit. As you drink more, that gradually disappears and the damaging effects kick in.’
But let’s be clear here: I’m not recommending anything personally. I’m just an averagely intelligent science journalist who’s done what anyone else can if they have the time: I’ve looked at the scientific and medical data published in top-flight journals, and collated the evidence.
So, readers should consult knowledgeable health professionals before acting upon anything they read below. The trouble is, most doctors know very little about this area, because they, like you, have been largely kept in the dark.
Here, though, is some of the evidence I found — and it’s more than a little surprising.
From the Nineties, experts at Harvard University monitored 12,000 men with high blood pressure for nearly 13 years.
All the men were doctors, and some were drinking far more than the accepted alcohol limits. In the UK, these are 16 grams a day for women — the alcohol in just over a medium glass of wine — and 32 grams for men, roughly half a bottle of red wine.
Working in grams per day is far easier than the hopelessly confusing system of units.
So what happened in the Harvard study? The more these men drank, the less chance they had of a heart attack.
Drinking 10 to 15 grams (up to a medium glass of wine) a day reduced risk by nearly 40 per cent. But at over 50 grams (two-thirds of a bottle of wine), the risk went down even further — by nearly 60 per cent.
Similar results were found in a 13-year Oxford University study of British doctors, some of whom also drank over the guidelines.
‘The consumption of alcohol appeared to reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease, largely irrespective of amount,’ the Oxford researchers reported.
In fact, the evidence from over half a century’s research seems to be overwhelming: alcohol is associated with a reduced risk of all forms of heart disease.
And alcohol can also help people with existing heart disease; in other words, it acts just like a pharmaceutical medication.
A huge nine-year study of nearly half a million Americans revealed that alcohol ‘significantly’ prolonged the lives of people already suffering from heart disease — and this applied even to people who drank more than 56 grams of alcohol (two-thirds of a bottle of wine) a day.
Drug companies have spent billions trying to find a way of preventing colds, and failed.
However, the answer has been staring us in the face all along, because astonishingly, both wine and alcohol in general help prevent the common cold — and very effectively, according to a joint research venture between Harvard and Spanish universities in 2002.
The results were astounding: up to a 60 per cent reduction in the risk of catching a cold among red wine drinkers, and a staggering 88 per cent reduction in white wine drinkers.