Social drinking to live longer

Although they may provide brief flashes of hope, the frequent news items about how wine is really good for us and can cure everything from obesity to cancer, not to mention high blood pressure, cholesterol and memory, sometimes stretch the limits of our credibility. If you believe this stuff, there is nothing that alcohol cannot remedy. There are doubtless many elements in wine that, independently, may be beneficial, but if they have to be taken accompanied by alcohol, perhaps it is not such a good idea. Alcohol in any form is not favourable to the human body, although most of us are prepared to run the gauntlet in order to enjoy our favourite tipple.

But, and here is the really good news, the act of drinking is beneficial for us. Not alcohol as such, but the side effects of drinking it. Professor Robin Dunbar, of Oxford University, has recently demonstrated that humans have always drunk alcohol as a way of widening relationships. Indeed, a review of grain production from earliest times has shown that the prerequisite was to produce alcohol, not flour to make bread.

The theory is so simple and logical that it is hard to fault. People relax as they drink, and the resulting endorphins lead to a sense of wellbeing that reduces tension. Recent studies demonstrate that the most important element for a long life is a wide circle of friends, more important than our diet, or an exercise routine, etc. When we visit a bar or café regularly we put down roots in the local community, leading to satisfying relationships. In almost any context, having a drink with friends is a profound act, giving rise to sharing thoughts with others we may not otherwise express.

The Holt-Lunstad study followed 148 heart disease victims from their illness to their death. The longest survivors were those with the widest circle of relationships; these amount to frequent releases of endorphins, which guarantee good health and lessening of stress. Since the birth of mankind, alcohol, while not being the best thing for our bodies, has always been best for our mental health and wellbeing.