The surprising popularity of Retrospective #197, “Triglycerides and Alcohol Consumption,” written obliquely several years ago for the benefit of my brother, gave me pause to contemplate how many others out there were interested in the subject. Unbelievably, it was the #4 all-time favorite in the Readership Statistics list of “10 Most Popular” posts. See Retrospective #416. Coincidentally, but in a different context, I recently read elsewhere that, “The dose makes the poison.” This syzygy, a conjunction like a solar eclipse, thus provided me today’s subject.
Drinking alcohol to excess runs in my family. My father was probably, and my mother possibly, alcoholic. I usually drink almost every day. Some people define alcoholism as the habit of drinking alcohol every day.
Since I began a 3-consecutive-day, modified fasting routine about a year ago, drinking one glass of wine has been part of my “fasting” routine. On “My Modified Fasting Plan” (Retrospective #383), on fasting days I make “supper” one red wine spritzer (5oz of red wine with 8 ounces of club soda), to take my evening pills. On non-fasting days, I double the dose. This “allowance” for alcohol is pleasing to me and, I know, to many others who enjoy a drink (or two).
Unless we have company who also enjoy a drink before dinner, at home I don’t drink ethyl alcohol (“spirits”). And these days, as we get older, “company” happens less and less often. In a restaurant, which we do about once a week, I usually have a cocktail or two, depending on the bartender. A few make them strong enough, as I do at home. Most do not, in which case I order two. Just once, at lunch with my editor and her husband in Nashville, I actually ordered three. I swear they were watered down…which is how I get to “the dose makes the poison.”
Paracelsus, (1493-1541), a Swiss scientist, son of a doctor, and “father of toxicology,” is credited with the adage, “The dose makes the poison,” a basic principle of toxicology. He told doctors to “study nature and develop personal experience through experiment” and thus to “emphasize the value of observation in combination with received wisdom.” This leads in turn to the concept of Hormesis.
More Wikipedia: “Hormesis is any process in an… organism [like you and me] that exhibits a biphasic response to exposure to increasing amounts of a substance or condition.” The “biphasic” conditions are “stimulation” and “inhibition.” Wiki continues, “The hermetic zone [is] generally a favorable biological response to low exposure to toxins and others stressors.” [I generally have a “favorable biological response” to one or even two glasses of wine or a “well-made” drink. [“A pollution or toxin showing Hormesis thus has the opposite effect in small doses as in large doses.” This effect has been shown with stressors like fasting and exercise.
I wrote about “Calorie Restriction and Longevity” (#79) and “Calorie Restriction in Humans” (#81) years ago. With respect to exercise, Wikipedia states, “Individuals with low levels of physical activity are at risk for high levels of oxidative stress, as are individuals engaged in highly intensive exercise programs; however, individuals engaged in moderately intensive, regular exercise experience lower levels of oxidative stress. High levels of oxidative stress have been linked by some with an increased incidence of a variety of diseases.” (all my emphases).
“Alcohol is believed to be hermetic in preventing heart disease and stroke, although the benefits of light drinking may have been exaggerated,” Wikipedia avers. But, “in 2012, researchers at UCLA found that tiny amounts…of ethanol doubled the lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans, a round worm frequently used in biological studies.” At least all of our taxpayer money isn’t being wasted on useless scientific research!!!Wikipedia admits, though, “The biochemical mechanisms by which Hormesis works are not well understood.” And they conclude, “Hormesis remains largely unknown to the public.” But Paracelsus has shown me how to manage the “stimulation” part: “study [your] nature and develop personal experience through experiment.” My interpretation of my personal experience: At home, be disciplined and adhere strictly to established protocol. With guests, cater to their wishes. In a restaurant, choose your bartender carefully, and remember always, “The dose makes the poison.”