Friday, 6 March 2009


“Drink the first. Sip the second slowly. Skip the third.” - Knute Rockne

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is a very powerful body in Australian medical and research circles. It carries a great deal of clout and is the body that has funded most of Australia’s greatest medical research projects. The NHMRC released today its latest version of the National Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol.

In Australia, alcohol consumption is calculated in terms of the “standard drink”, which is defined as any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol. One standard drink always contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of container size or alcohol type (i.e., beer, wine, or spirit). For example, a “nip” of spirits (30 mL of 40% Alc/vol) is a standard drink, a 285 mL glass of full strength beer (4.5% alcohol) is 1.1 standard drinks, while the same glass of light beer (2.7% alcohol) is 0.6 standard drinks.

The NHMRC advises drinkers not to consume more than 4 standard drinks on a big night out (keep in mind that a normal bottle of wine, that is, 750 mL at 12% alc/vol is 7.5 standard drinks!). The preferred “dose” of alcohol per day, if you are to drink it at all, is recommended at two standard drinks. This will reduce your risk of dying from alcohol-related disease at below 1 in 100. This is slightly less than your risk of dying in a car accident one day. If you decide to drink six standard drink per day, your chances of dying from alcohol-related diseases increases to 10 in 100.

Now all of that was for the men! Women are recommended to drink 2/3 less for the same risks as those mentioned above. That is, women should have 1.3 standard drinks per day to reduce their risk of dying from alcohol-related disease to below 1 in 100. This is because of hormonal and metabolic differences between the sexes, which mean that women can cope less efficiently with detoxifying the alcohol in their body. There are also important genetic differences in terms of the enzymes in the liver and how efficiently they can cope with alcohol detoxification. Some people have a very efficient inducible enzyme system so the more they drink the better they cope with alcohol detoxification (within reason!). Others, unfortunately do not have these genes that “turn on” the appropriate enzymes, so even a small amount of alcohol will have dire effects. These genetic effects are valid in both sexes.

In Australia we have a saying for the person who cannot hold their drink too well and is affected adversely with even a small glass of alcohol. They are called a “one pot screamer” (a pot is a large glass of beer – 425 mL which at 4.5% alc/vol is 1.6 standard drinks!). The ancient Greeks of course knew all of this and would not think of drinking wine neat – they always diluted it with water, using a large vessel called a “krater” (from the verb “kerannymi” – I mix). The modern Greek word for (undiluted!) wine is “krasí”, which is derived from the krater of old. And yes, in case you are wondering, a volcano’s crater is from the same word, seeing how a volcanic crater resembles a wine mixing vessel!

The Greeks were very a very moderate people, if you believe Cleobulus (one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece) who said: “The mean is best in all things”, presumably this applied to wine bibbing as well! Besides, which the Greeks had other methods for becoming inebriated:

A Kiss within the Cup

I am no wine-bibber; but if thou wilt make me drunk,
Taste thou first and bring it me, and I take it.
For if thou wilt touch it with thy lips,
No longer is it easy to keep sober or to escape the sweet cup- bearer;
For the cup ferries me over a kiss from thee,
And tells me of the grace that it had.

Agathias (ca AD 536-582/594, Byzantine poet and historian).
Enjoy your weekend, I need to go and have my standard 2 drinks!

1 comment:

  1. "Unrat" was the first novel by H. Mann that I read - I was 15, and my parents would not have approved...
    I should try to find the movie - Marlene Dietrich as Lola ! - I never knew about it! The most depressing is probably The Loyal Subject... But! The duology (or dilogy, sounds better) King Henry IV! That's a masterpiece worthy of attention! There is an English translation - though I would not be surprised if you read in German!
    What I am trying to say here - your literature list is impressive...
    Drinking right now is not my cup of tea - I am Russian Orthodox...