MAD DOG: Drink to Your Health

Some days reading the news is every frat boys' wet dream. No, Jennifer Lopez isn't moving in next door wearing a dress that makes the one she had on at the Grammies look like a nun's habit. Come on, we're talking about reality here. The news is that drinking beer may actually have benefits other than making you think you're witty, offering you the remote possibility of sex, and keeping aspirin manufacturers in business. Alcohol, it turns out, may actually be good for you.

This isn't a completely new discovery. Scientists have long known that red wine has health benefits. They figured this out while trying to explain how the French can eat a diet full of fat, sugar, and snails yet have such a low incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and tolerance for foreigners. The problem, of course, is that if you want to reap these same benefits you'll have to switch from Coors to cabernet, which is rather un-American. Somehow I can't see Château Lafite-Rothschild slapping their logo on Kyle Petty's car anytime soon. Of course stranger things have happened. You know, like someone accidentally tuning in to watch "Big Brother."

The problem with wine is its image--if it doesn't have a screw top it's intimidating. Like art, all that's truly important is whether you like it, but that's not good enough. First you're expected to get into drinking something that's variously described as tasting like (True Fact Alert!) manure, lead pencil, road tar, and turpentine. Yum! Something tells me that if this was really a good way to promote products we'd be seeing ads for Tide that say "Gets clothes cleaner than a mud puddle," airlines would claim they're "Faster and safer than swimming to Europe," and movies would be advertised as "Not half as bad or long as 'Waterworld'."

Then there's the drinking part. How did drinking wine end up as a ritual so pompous and convoluted that the Pope is jealous? First you sniff the cork like a dog in heat. Then you take a sip and slosh it around your mouth. I'm sorry, but wine shouldn't be sloshed, you should. Then, once you finally decide it's okay to swallow, you look at the sommelier (French for "The reason we're marking up your wine 3,000 percent") and want to say, "I can't tell any difference between this and the $20 bottle I have at home" but can't because you've been suddenly struck by the fact that this wine that's setting you back $130 tastes like manure, lead pencil, road tar, and turpentine. Is it any wonder weekends are made for Michelob and not merlot?

That's why it's nice to hear that beer and alcohol may not only offer many of the same health benefits as Château Septic-tanque, but may actually have more. Researchers have discovered that hops--a key ingredient in beer along with malt, water, yeast, and diuretics--not only contains antioxidant flavonoids, but may have more of them than red wine. Antioxidants, for those who don't subscribe to the Health Claim of the Month Club, are little chemical thingies which are good for us because they help destroy free radicals, much like the FBI when they tracked down ex-Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathy Soliah. The problem is scientists say you'd have to drink hundreds of pints of beer a day to get these benefits, an amount which is completely out of the question unless you're Irish, a college student, or Robert Downey, Jr.

Meanwhile scientists in Germany have found that one or two drinks a day can kill off H. pylori, the bacteria which causes stomach ulcers. You might remember that for years doctors thought stomach ulcers were caused by stress. Now it turns out it was a bacteria all along. It's a lot like catching a cold except these things eat a hole in your stomach lining. On the other hand, with ulcers you don't have to buy twenty boxes of tissues and sound like Elmer Fudd for two weeks. Once again they say red wine is more effective at killing H. pylori than beer, something I know was particularly painful for Germans to admit.

The problem is that all of this is guesswork, conjecture, and not very effective since you'd have to stay drunk in order to stay healthy. That's why it's nice to hear that a company in California is putting out an alcoholic drink they say is good for you. Hard E is a combination of beer, vodka, vitamins, ginseng, and marketing. The manufacturer claims it will give you energy at the same time you get a buzz. Somehow this reminds me of the old adage about drinking coffee to sober up: all you end up with is a wide awake drunk. But I don't expect this to stop anyone. After all, low-fat foods were a great invention and they can cause people to gain weight. Of course that's because many of them eat twice as much as they would normally, which isn't surprising since the words "low-fat" look astonishingly like "no calories."

Hard E is an extension of smart drinks and energy drinks like Red Bull. I saw my first smart drinks a number of years back at Lollapalooza where they sold them for $6.00 apiece. I didn't try one but I felt certain they'd work as advertised. Something told me that one sip would instantly make anyone wiser, vowing immediately to never again pay so much for so little.

It's hard to tell whether finding health benefits for alcohol is good science, an excuse for researchers to cash their government grant checks while drunk, or something to tell ourselves the next morning when our head feels like it's so healthy it's about to explode. But no matter, it still gives us something to do while waiting for Jennifer Lopez to move in next door.

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