Barley Mowat 

My Low Risk February

with 7 comments

So, that happened. At the beginning of February I vowed to live an entire month in strict adherence to Health Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Guidelines. I’ve done no-alcohol months in the past so I figured this would be no big deal. I mean, I can still drink right? This should be easy!

Well, let’s just say drinking a tiny, exactly prescribed amount is a lot harder than not drinking at all. It turns out that a blanket decision to avoid liquor is a lot easier to self-enforce than a nuanced “it depends.” As a result, two days into this endeavour I dropped the “strict” from my goal of adherence. From there it became more of a general observance that didn’t quite keep tradition with the intent.

Kind of like when you give up Yoga for Lent.

All told, though, I did okay. As part of this fool exercise I tracked every single drink I consumed during the month. There were 37 of them. Yes, they were mostly beer. Those 37 beers comprised 58 standard units of alcohol. Don’t look at me like that, I bet you did more. For comparison, I had an unnamed friend also track her drinks. She had 94 standard drinks. I think the Betty Ford Client has a wing named after her and a held bed.

The first real casualty of adherence was the stupid “2 drinks in 3 hours” rule. If you don’t recall, the rule basically says that you can’t have more than two standard drinks in a 180 minute period. This seems reasonable on the surface, but in practice it fell apart on February 3rd when I was served a 12 ounce bottle of Rochefort 10 at a restaurant. That one bottle of delicious Belgian Quad is 2.20 standard drinks. Try as I might, I couldn’t nurse it more than 90 minutes. So screw that rule.

Wait… rules are optional now?
This changes EVERYTHING!

I also broke the “4 drinks in a day” rule three times, but never by much. The weekly rule of 15 drinks was more or less in constant violation, but again never by more than a drink or so. I ended the month with a very precisely calculated weekly average of 15.01 standard drinks, and even managed to easily stay in compliance with the “two non-drinking days in the past seven” rule. Heck, that one was easy.

So, what did I learn? Quite a bit, actually. Now that every waking hour was no longer consumed with sourcing then imbibing the nearest, cheapest source of sweet, sweet medicine, I had a bit of time to do some reading. I choose to look into the actual science behind these peculiar guidelines, and what I learnt will come as a shock to you. Unless, you know, you’re a jaded cynic who figures the Powers That Be simply pull numbers out of a hat and call them guidelines. If that’s you, then you won’t be surprised one bit.

Okay, okay, it’s not that bad, but the reality isn’t too far off. You see, there are lots of studies about alcohol and health. Lots. It’s almost as if the world conspires to make recruiting volunteers for these studies at the universities where they’re done cheap and easy. And, in general, the studies tell us that drinking a set amount of alcohol per day improves your health to a certain point, and then slowly begins to make it worse.

Curiously, all these things tend to peak around two drinks a day. So when the government comes along and recommends that we all drink two drinks a day, it’s based on maximizing the health benefits of having a little bit of alcohol in your blood while minimizing the health impact of having lots in your blood. If we were going for truth in advertising, these guidelines wouldn’t be called the “Low Risk” guidelines but rather “Maximum Benefit” or, if they want to maximize website clicks, “Three Secret Drinking Hacks For Longer Life, That The Government Doesn’t Want You To Know” despite them, you know, being the government. It was funny when I thought of it last night, okay?

If we really wanted “low risk” guidelines I think a better approach would be the levels at which the benefit of drinking hasn’t been completely eliminated by volume. At these levels, you’re still better off for throwing back some sauce versus not drinking at all. What are those levels? About 5 drinks a day for men and 3.5 for women, more or less. For some risk factors it’s more and for others it’s less. Coronary heart disease risk, for whatever weird reason, appears to only go further down as you drink more.

Somewhere to the right is immortality.

What about drinking to damage to your health? Well, the science on that side of things is a bit more vague. All we know for certain is that drinking lots generally isn’t great for you, and that conducting studies involving volunteers deliberately inflicting themselves with serious, permanent injury is oddly looked down upon by the medical community.

What science suspects is that regularly soaking all of your organs in a solvent like alcohol is probably bad for you. At low levels of intake, it seems that your liver is up to the job of scrubbing all that nasty booze out of your blood before it can do any damage. This explains the benefits of low level drinking. The damage seems to start when level of alcohol in your blood begins to accumulate faster than your liver can get it out, otherwise known as “being drunk.”

Again there’s not a lot of agreement about “how drunk” is “bad” but researchers tend to put the number around six drinks in a sitting, or what is also referred to as “binge drinking.” Why six? Fuck if I know, and fuck if they know either. Six is, and I’m not kidding here, pulled out of researchers’ collective assholes because “it seems like a lot.” Seriously, everyone admits that Six is just a made up number with no data to back it up but no one can be bothered to do actual research into this to get a better idea, because of that whole “killing the subjects” thing. Wimps.

And yet science claims to know how many lightning strikes are bad for your health.

Okay, I’ll back down a bit. Six really is a lot of liquor, and probably more than you should be eyeing up at the pub. I know it’s only three full pints of Driftwood Fat Tug but we should all be honest about how much alcohol is in 60 ounces of one of the strongest IPAs in town. It’s a lot, folks, and you shouldn’t be drinking it in one go unless the “broken nose capillary” look is in this year.

So, in the end, the takeaways are pretty much what you’d expect: Don’t drink too much, call your mother more, keep track of how much you are intaking, keep a clean house, lay off the liquor once in a while, and lastly: start shotgunning vodka if you have heart disease.

Written by chuck

March 6th, 2015 at 11:10 am

Posted in Beer and You

7 Responses to 'My Low Risk February'

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  1. Did you take your vitals before and after the month? I lost five pounds in two weeks after my daughter was born, in large part due to a lack of beer drinking.

    Chris Richardson

    6 Mar 15 at 11:37

  2. I did:

    Blood pressure: no change
    Weight: no change
    Height: no change

    So yeah.

    chuck

    6 Mar 15 at 11:39

  3. I tried to figure out how many standard drinks I had in the last month, and it broke.
    I will pretend that is figurative. It could also be a typo.
    Either way, it is quite impressive that you managed to limit yourself in such an arbitrary and governmental fashion. You have (some of) the resolve of a bureaucrat, yet (it seems like all of) the taste of a beer geek. Kudos.
    I can not picture nursing a Rochefort 10 for a couple of hours without a gun to my head. Even then…
    It is endlessly amazing what passes for facts when it comes to public health. I am glad that I never, ever, ever drink more than three pints of IPA in a sitting. Ever.
    On a side note, I would like to fill my *insert cure here* prescription, please….
    Oh, and how about that Singularity drop?

    TheFlagon

    7 Mar 15 at 01:39

  4. Note: Previous rant-like comment brought to you by more than three pints of IPA.

    TheFlagon

    7 Mar 15 at 23:57

  5. You made my point better than I could of 🙂

    chuck

    8 Mar 15 at 15:18

  6. I was going to leave a comment, but I didn’t want to spoil any future blog posts. Your explanation of the 2 drink rule was far more colourful and entertaining than mine

    Ian (left4beer)

    9 Mar 15 at 13:20

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