Skip to main content

Study Challenges Health Benefits of Alcohol: A Rebuttal

The news today is a study from France challenging the beneficial effects of alcohol, adding fuel to a debate we thought had flickered out some time ago. Dr. Boris Hansel of the Hopital de la Pitie in Paris, a specialist in cardiovascular disease prevention, acknowledged in an article in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that while moderate drinkers are in fact healthier, the alcohol doesn’t deserve the credit. The study was an analysis of lifestyle factors of nearly 150,000 adults, and largely confirmed the long-held theory that moderate drinkers (especially wine drinkers) are healthier. But Dr. Hansel’s conclusion was that the benefit was due to associated lifestyle factors, not the alcohol. Moderate drinkers do a lot of other healthy things too, such as exercise more and eat healthier diets, again most particularly wine drinkers. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jx9U20jDoCjwpIdEN7PbNB32H3EA)


Is it really as simple as that? Not likely. For starters, the emphasis of the study was on cardiovascular disease, now known to be only a small part of the wine and health formula. But even within the category, there are specific physiological effects to credit: alcohol increases HDL cholesterol, the beneficial kind, and wine polyphenols work in several ways to counteract the formation of cholesterol plaques.

The bigger issue is the notion that with a large enough study, we can finally get to the heart of the problem, and figure out what’s really going on. But studies of this type rely on self-reporting of quantity and type of alcohol consumed, which is notoriously unreliable, so the resulting inacurracies in data become magnified. It is far more meaningful to study a small but very-well characterized population, such as a particular town where everyone drinks the local wine and a traditional lifestyle is practiced consistently. This type of study is where the original French paradox was born. The paradox now is why the French are turning their backs on their own revelation to the world about healthy living.

Statisticians may bemoan the difficulty in trying to decipher how much of the French paradox is lifestyle and how much to credit the effects of alcohol and polyphenol biochemistry, but in my way of thinking it is ultimately a useless exercise. The distinction between wine as a pharmacologic supplement and wine as a component of a healthy lifestyle is an intillectual argument that does little to help us lead happier and healthier lives. For the record though, there are several good studies to support the separate contribution of wine to health, and this most recent report provides little evidence to contradict a recommendation to drink wine with dinner whenever possible.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Wear red and DRINK red for women’s heart health

This Friday Feb 2nd is the annual “wear red” day in Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness for women’s heart health. Why only a day for the number one threat to women’s health? Women are 5 times more likely to succumb to heart disease than breast cancer, which gets a whole month (October.) Another contradiction is that the advice women hear about prevention of breast cancer is the opposite of what you can do to lower the risk of heart disease: a daily glass of wine. Even one drink a day raises your risk of breast cancer, we are told, ignoring the overriding benefits of wine on heart health. Drink red wine to live longer Here’s why I think women should also “drink red.” For starters, wine helps de-stress and celebrates life. Stress is a factor in heart disease, and if that were the only way wine helped it would be worth considering. But the medical evidence is also strong: a daily glass of red wine helps raise the HDL “good cholesterol” levels, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular p…

How globalization of drinking habits threatens the French paradox

It seems that the more studies we see on the relationship between wine and health, and the larger they are, the more contradictory the results. Headlines summarizing comprehensive international studies declare the French paradox dead, and all alcoholic beverages are equally detrimental. I think there is an overlooked explanation for this: over the past several decades, convergence of drinking patterns around the world has separated wine from its role as a daily part of a meal. Globalization has commoditized our views about drink, toppling it from its role as a culturally specific emblem. Global convergence of drinking There are several recent reports summarizing the trend,[i],[ii],[iii]and it applies for both developed and developing countries. Since the early 1960s, wine’s share of global alcohol consumption has more than halved, declining from 35% to 15%. Beer and spirits have taken up the slack, with beer gaining 42% and spirits adding 43%, both large gains. The bigger story howeve…

Which types of wine are the healthiest?

I am often asked after lecturing on the healthful properties of wine which type is best to drink. Since much of the discussion has to do with the polyphenol antioxidants from the skins and seeds of the grape, red wine is the first criterion since it is fermented with the whole grape rather than the pressed juice. This allows for extraction and concentration of these compounds, familiar ones being resveratrol and tannins. But beyond that, which varietals have the highest concentrations?


According to the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, “The best kind of wine is that which is pleasant to him that drinks it” but modern science expects more specifics. (The point of course is that if you have a wine that you enjoy you are more likely to drink regularly and therefore reap the benefits.) But there are several difficulties in singling out certain wines for their healthful properties. Which compounds to measure? Are we talking about heart health or the whole gamut? Is it the varietal of the …