Forget sex … science sells

Studies have shown that the wilful misrepresentation of science can help sell almost anything. This morning I have glanced over this article, which refers to a study into the associations between drinking coffee and death rates from various illnesses, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (warning: contains the pun ‘Coffee Perks’). Handily, my brain has had enough exposure to this kind of survey in the past that it automatically filters out words such as ‘may’, ‘trends’, and ‘association’, and it automatically jumps to the underlying message: ‘THE CONSTANT CONSUMPTION OF COFFEE WILL MAKE YOU LIVE FOREVER! EVERY MOMENT YOU ARE NOT DRINKING COFFEE IS A MOMENT IN WHICH YOU COULD DIE!’

Oh, and look, here’s another one … “Women who drank more than four cups of coffee per day had one-fifth less of a risk of experiencing depression than women who consumed less (sic) than one cup per week.” So that’s where I’ve been going wrong … I probably only drink three cups a day. I need to be drinking more. I’d better nip out to the supermarket. Oh, it won’t be open for another five hours … damned insomnia …

I am being a little unfair … the articles do point out limitations of the above studies (“people already experiencing sleeping problems, depression or anxiety might avoid coffee” … maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong … Or perhaps my depression is caused by the futility of my quest to find a decent cup of coffee in Britain?). However, examples of science being abused in order to flog rubbish are rife. There’s a toothpaste advert on telly at the moment that has a woman making her teeth squeak first thing in the morning. They squeak! So they must be really, really clean. Science! Oh, give me strength …

My flatmate / landlord B and I get through rather a lot of tea and coffee. Not an insane amount; probably just an average amount, to be honest. We had a chat about it yesterday. Reasons why we drink a lot of hot drinks include: routine, boredom, because it’s chilly out, because the other is putting the kettle on and may as well make two cups as one, to break up the day, and because we like them. I can now add to that list: because they stop you from dying (conversely, reasons why we might not drink a hot drink at any given time include: because we’ve just had one, because we’ve already had three so far today and it’s only eight in the morning, and because oh what the hell go on then).

B tells me that overindulgence in caffeinated drinks has the contrary effect of making him want to drink plenty of water and have a lie down – the same effect that drinking lots of red wine has on me. When I drink too much coffee, I get giddy, impulsive, nauseous and disorientated – the same effect that drinking lots of red wine has on me. The only difference is that I rarely feel that I can’t get started in the morning until I’ve had a cup of coffee, but I frequently feel that I’m worthless until I’ve had my morning glass of wine.

I am joking, of course (yes, Mum, Dad, that was a joke, just a minor piece of self-mockery, honest). However perhaps it is time to start curtailing my intake of caffeine and alcohol. When I started on citalopram, I stopped drinking alcohol almost completely for about five months, but lately I’ve fallen off the wagon. The thing is, I really like drinking. Not being drunk, and certainly not being hungover; but the revitalising bitterness of hops, the icy relief of a cold lager after work on a hot day, the companionship of sharing a bottle of red with a good friend, the late-night seduction by single malt. It may be an abusive relationship but it’s one that I keep coming back to …

Here are two of my favourite drinking songs.


About Sarah

Still just trying to make sense of the world.
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