Health & Fitness

It isn't how you quaff beer, but how much

EducationLifestyle and LeisureDining and DrinkingScience

If I drink, I drink two beers in a day, as I have been led to believe that this is a healthy amount. If I drink these beers after a meal, they don't have much affect on me at all. If I drink the beers on an empty stomach I can achieve quite a pleasant buzz. The question is, am I "cheating" by drinking on an empty stomach and actually drinking the equivalent of an unhealthy amount of beer?

STEVE

Pacific Palisades

There are two types of effects from alcohol, according to Dr. Curtis Ellison, director of the Institute on Lifestyle and Health at Boston University School of Medicine: "The buzz and the long-term health effects," he says. Some studies suggest that drinking with meals carries additional health benefits, but the scientific literature is not consistent on the issue.

It's not clear whether the risks and benefits of alcohol relate more to the total amount a person drinks, or to whether it increases blood alcohol levels a lot (as does drinking on an empty stomach) or a little (as does drinking with food).

So until more is known, Ellison advises, "Your reader should be encouraged to drink in a fashion to give him/her the most pleasure, as long as the amount is moderate." (Two beers is probably fine.)

Scraping augments brush-floss routineDoes scraping the tongue offer any health benefits?

ANIL

Kerala, IndiaStand in front of a mirror, stick out your tongue — then look closely at the surface. You'll see that it's anything but smooth. "It's got lots of little folds and bumps and grooves in it," says Dr. Matthew Messina, a dentist based in the Cleveland area and a consumer advisor for the American Dental Assn. These are lovely places for bacteria to live, and some cause bad breath because of the gases they give off. "Scraping the tongue can really reduce the number of those bacteria and can help a number of people with bad breath," Messina says. It becomes more important as people get older and breath becomes not as fresh.

It's not entirely clear whether tongue scrapers are better than toothbrushes for the job. A study published in the September/October issue of the journal General Dentistry did find that scrapers were better at reducing mouth levels of stinky, so-called volatile sulfur compounds. (Unfortunately, the reduction was short-lived.)

Still, Messina says, you can also brush your tongue with a toothbrush. (And, he adds, if you want your mouth to smell sweet, don't forget to floss and brush your teeth.) Make sure you brush the tongue's middle and back, where microbe populations can be especially high. Want to brush your tongue but it kind of makes you gag?

"It helps if you stick out your tongue then hold it with your other hand," Messina says. "Stabilizing the tongue a bit makes it easier to scrape or brush the surface."

Finally, the authors of the General Dentistry article note that scientists don't fully understand the causes of bad breath. They say that better remedies are needed.

— Rosie Mestel


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