Jul 24, 2020

Study Says “Modest Drinking” May Help Brane, uh, Brain

We break up another traffic JAMA

By Ed Goldman

The headline of a recent New York Times story intrigued me: “Modest Drinking May Aid Brain.” The Times article was regurgitating another article, from the Journal of the American Medicine Association. The group is jauntily known as JAMA, which to me sounds like the single tense of  the word “pajamas.”

The Times and JAMA articles reported on a University of Georgia study that indicated some drinking could sometimes be better than non-drinking for the brain. But it included this cautionary quote from a doctoral student who was the research honcho: “If you are not drinking now, there is no reason to start drinking to preserve cognitive function. There are many other ways to prevent cognitive decline—exercise, reading and so on,” said Ruiyuan Zhang.

(Just so you know, I did ask The Goldman State’s language assistant for a phonetic pronunciation of Zhang’s name. He texted me, “DOCtoral STUdent.” Working from home has evidently made my language assistant, Howie Saydiss, a tad lazy.)

My concern isn’t so much about the article as it is about the headline: “Modest Drinking May Aid Brain.” Neither the Times nor JAMA—nor the researcher, for that matter—use the word “modest.” They favor “moderate,” defined as “eight drinks a week or fewer for women, and 15 or fewer for men.” This would put me squarely in the category of “moderate drinker,” especially if “week” meant “work week” and if they were using one of the State of California’s “flex time” parameters (four days of 10 hours each) or, better still, the work shift my dad had as a New York City firefighter decades ago, for which he worked three 24-hour days then came home and took us to the Bronx Zoo, movie matinees and afternoon baseball games.

But let’s get back to the term “modest” as used to modify “drinking.” Even though I always think of ”modest” as a fairly flexible adjective, the two meanings that most resonate with me are humble (for a person) or average-sized (for a home or salary). On a personal level, the word describes neither my current athletic prowess nor book residuals (for which the word coined by either Noah Webster or Peter Mark Roget is “laughable”).

But it’s not a descriptor for “drinking” unless the following dialogue works for you: 

Bartender: “A sixth martini?! Wow, you really can drink!”

Customer (blushes): “Oh, not really. I mean, I try. But there are so many people who can out-drink me. Seriously. You’re just a flatterer, that’s what you are.” (He blushes or possibly flushes again, prior to passing out.)

I also question the portion of the study that found men can drink nearly twice as much alcohol per week as women can and still be considered “modest” drinkers. This does a serious disservice to some of the women I’ve met who demonstrated they could drink me under the table. Lest you think otherwise, I’d crawled there only to look for one of their recalcitrant contact lenses.

Woman: “You found it! My hero!”

Me (blushing): “Oh, not really. I mean, I try. But there are so many people who could have found it. Seriously. You’re just a flatterer, that’s what you are.”

Woman: “Well, you’re certainly what I’d call a modest drinker.”

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).