Toast the season

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(Host) Should you toast the season along with your holiday turkey? Commentator Ruth Page describes how it may help your heart, but emphasizes that drinking too much is far more dangerous than not drinking at all. Doctors never advise non-drinkers to “have a drink.”

(Page) It’s Thanksgiving time. While everyone agrees that alcohol consumption during the holidays is a problem for many, it’s also a good time to think about alcohol. Recent studies suggest that, for those of us who drink only in moderation, one drink at dinnertime can be heart-healthy. Drinking too much is of course far more dangerous than not drinking at all. Doctors never advise non-drinkers to start drinking. The dangers of alcoholism are so serious, most doctors are afraid to recommend that a patient drink at all.

Now, though, many tests have shown that very moderate alcohol intake – one ounce or so a day for women, two ounces or so for men – can lower the risk of coronary heart disease, called CHD, by as much as thirty percent.

CHD is responsible for a fourth of all deaths in developed countries. One five-ounce glass of wine or one twelve-ounce beer provides alcohol equivalent to one ounce of hard liquor. What does the alcohol do? A glass of wine can provide vitamin B6, which processes the amino acids that make up protein. It helps form chemicals essential to brain function. Alcohol can keep fatty plaques from building up in your arteries: that’s what ath-erosclerosis is, athera referring to thick plaque, sclera meaning “hard.”

Plaques can stick like barnacles to artery walls until they seriously impede blood flow to the heart. Heart muscles need the oxygen from blood to work efficiently. When they don’t get it, you’re likely to feel chest pain called angina. Serious blood-clotting can kill.

Studies show that light-to-moderate drinkers have fewer heart attack deaths than non-drinkers. Alcohol affects the cholesterol everybody talks about. It raises your HDLs, the good cholesterol that sends LDLs, the bad cholesterol, back to the liver to be recycled or eliminated. Scientists say the higher HDL levels of drinkers are responsible for at least half of their lowered risk of CHD. Alcohol might disrupt the internal goings-on that lead to blood clots, too.

But never think that because a little alcohol is good, more is better. Alcoholism can cause people to develop high blood pressure and experience heart failure, stroke or kidney failure. Persons who drink too much are a danger not only to themselves, but to society, especially if they drink and drive. (Doctors have never found that LIGHT drinking causes any of the problems of alcoholics.)

This is Ruth Page, suggesting that at your Thanksgiving feast, you toast the season with a few ounces of wine, and offer good Vermont sparkling cider to the youngsters and others who prefer it.

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