Even our gods partook of soma rasa, and extracts of plants and fruits and grains and vegetables, after fermentation, have intoxicated the human race from time immemorial. These have been offered to deities in many cultures throughout the world and have been used in institutionalised rituals across many faiths and in major and minor worship systems.
But modern-day science now appears persuaded that drinking does no good at all. A recent study published in Lancet, the well-known medical journal, negates the long-held view that moderate drinking may cause benefits to the heart.
“There is no safe level of alcohol”, according to the lead author of a consortium of 500 experts who looked at the evidence from around the world and drew on findings of hundreds of earlier studies. The primary conclusion is that the protective effects of alcohol are offset by the risks, and having even a glass of beer or wine is not safe. The health risk appears to rise with increased intake.
Since cultural acceptance of alcohol — even in rituals — is widespread, eliminating consumption may prove difficult. But the science should not be ignored and we should be forewarned.
It is entirely likely that some plant foods that are daily fare may also show high risk when subjected to close scientific scrutiny. Until then, we should just remain mindful about alcoholic beverages. They can indeed be quite deadly when they combine with other risk factors such as hypertension, sugar-related ailments, obesity and pollution.
In 2016, drinking was the seventh leading risk factor for premature deaths internationally, but in the 15-49 age group it was the most lethal factor. In India, we should be cautioned, given our young population and rapid urbanisation, which leads to loosening of traditional family restraints.