The Guardian , Aug. 28 2019

From charcoal-infused foods to healing crystals, millennials have been on an ongoing search for the Holy Grail of health. Their latest fixation, however, may come as a surprise. Many are touting good ol’ fashioned booze as a solution to both mental and physical health concerns.

There’s been a longstanding debate over the potential health benefits of alcohol. Mostly, this back-and-forth has surrounded red wine, with reports that vino can improve your immune system, fight heart disease, increase libido and even improve memory. But every time a headline heralds good news for wine lovers, another seems to pop up delegitimizing reported cardiovascular benefits, warning of an increased risk of cancer and early death.

The new alcohol-meets-wellness craze goes beyond red wine, however. Mezcal brand Gem & Bolt is “founded on the belief that art, plants and celebration elevate consciousness.” They market their product as a “clean spirit” that can have “mood-elevating properties,” “heart-opening properties” and deliver “mythical prowess in the bedroom.” One of the biggest fads in athletic recovery is craft wellness beers that claim lower calorie counts, added electrolytes, anti-inflammatory properties and added sodium and potassium. 

There’s also, of course, the growing love affair between cannabis and alcohol. Napa Valley-based CannaVines offers a red blend infused with cannabis strain Headband, which they say has an “affinity for relieving pain and stress relief.” They also sell a Chardonnay infused with Sour Diesel, which they say “promotes a pleasant cerebral sensation and a feeling of well-being.” Ontario-based Mary Jane’s Handcrafted Hemp Wines advertises the benefits of consuming hemp, which they claim to include lowered LDL cholesterol levels, improved organ function and reduced PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps.

Several U.S. cities already have bars mixing cocktails laced with CBD (non-psychoactive compound derived from cannabis), with Canadian cities sure to follow once edibles become legal. Some bartenders and physicians have theorized potential benefits of mixing CBD and alcohol, including a lower alcohol blood level and reversing cell damage caused by alcohol.

Constellation Brands, the big-time producer behind brands like Kim Crawford, Corona, Svedka and Ruffino, invested over $4 billion in Canadian cannabis producer Canopy Growth. Molson Coors Canada and Canadian cannabis distributor The Hydropothecary Corporation inked a joint venture to develop cannabis-based drinks.

There’s also an uptick in wines and even beers marketed as paleo-friendly, keto-friendly and low-carb friendly. Organic wine has given way to “raw” wine, a category of which regulators and brands can’t seem to define.

What’s perhaps most interesting about this trend, however, is that it’s taking place while younger consumers are generally straying away from alcohol. A study by the University College London found the percentage of 16 to 24-year-olds who do not consume alcohol increased from 18 per cent in 2005 to 29 per cent in 2015. ISWR, the most widely-used source for alcohol trends globally, reports 30 per cent of Generation Z has no intention to drink alcohol at all. In February, Business Insider accused millennials and Gen Z of dragging down booze sales.

Multiple theories attempt to explain this decline, but one of the most prominent posits that younger generations abstain or limit intake because they’re more health-conscious and concerned about what they put in their bodies. Alcohol marketers have reacted by trying to convince consumers that alcohol can fit into clean, wellness-focused lifestyles.

It’s important to note that most of the claims made by these brands haven’t been vetted or approved by the F.D.A. or Health Canada. There are usually little to no scientific or medical studies referenced in marketing materials. Canada’s new food guide does classify alcohol as a “a leading global health concern” and advises that those who don’t drink not be encouraged to start. The World Health Organization calls alcohol a “toxic and psychoactive substance with dependence producing propensities” and classifies it as a carcinogen.

This avalanche of health and wellness-focused marketing comes as alcohol brands try to revamp their marketing towards women — a trend sometimes referred to as the “pinking of alcohol.” There have been some epic fails: “Chick beer,” “Jane Walker” whiskey and pink I.P.A.s, to name a few.

It’s taken for granted that women largely drive the wellness mania in which we currently find ourselves, with some theorists suggesting that this is a consequences of their mistreatment by the medical establishment over the years. Perhaps this is also the industry’s latest attempt to appeal to female consumers. Nevertheless, this comes with its own issues as it could be seen as taking advantage of or co-opting women’s disenfranchisement with current healthcare options. Studies also point to higher health risks from alcohol for women than men.

While some wellness trends like crystals, moon dust and celery juice have little potential for harm even if they’re ineffective, others can lead to illness, injury or even death. Alcohol, despite health-centric new marketing claims, falls into the latter category. While one can certainly enjoy a glass or wine or their favourite cocktail, no one should do so with the belief they’re actually improving their health. Until regulatory bodies or scientists conclusively say otherwise, drinking should stay a purely recreational endeavour.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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