Some water flowing in high mountain streams is pristine enough to drink without the need of additives to kill or filter out disease-causing microbes. But, in many places on planet earth, water clean enough for consumption is in short supply. In California and other drought-ridden locations, plants and animals are dying due to insufficient water. In many areas around the world, dysentery from drinking contaminated water is prevalent and life-threatening.
We take water purity for granted in the US where chlorinated water pours from our taps. But, during much of the past 10,000 years, before the availability of pure water, the only safe liquid to drink contained alcohol. Today, we see alcohol through many lenses, with both good and bad views.
Alcohol is the metabolic byproduct of the natural process of fermentation that occurs when yeasts metabolize sugars. In the Middle Ages, alcohol was called “the water of life,” aqua vitae. They learned to make wine from grapes, and beer from fermented grain. People of all ages, including children, drank alcoholic beverages as their primary consumable liquid. The alcohol destroyed many microbes causing disease and made it safer to drink than water. The processes for making wine and beer are simple. Today, many people make them for fun. Microbreweries have sprung up everywhere. There are many suppliers, even health food stores carry the products.
All alcohols are not consumable. Some can cause blindness and death. Disinfectant alcohol is applied to surfaces of the body prior to medical procedures, and is the primary ingredient in liquid hand purifiers. Windshield cleaners spew various colored fluids containing alcohol. There are many industrial uses.
The drinkable form is ethyl alcohol. It is used in celebratory toasts, paired with elegant dining, and has been shown to contribute to cardiovascular health. Undisciplined drinking carries health risks and tragedy. Alcohol is a sedative drug and a toxin. Excessive consumption contributes to loss of mental function, also causing addiction and liver failure. Alcohol has become a common social drink and a problem for many who drink to excess.
Our next blog will review a new powdered alcohol product called palcohol. Additional blogs will provide information on health and social issues related to alcohol consumption, common early signs of problematic drinking, and will discuss blood alcohol determinations.
Here’s to safe drinking, designated drivers, and moderation in all things.
Betty and Bev