Skip to main content

The biggest myths about wine and health

Just when it seems that people are starting to catch on about the wine and health story, along come the naysayers to muddy the waters with out of date and disproven assumptions. True, a lot of what I am about to cover here is counterintuitive and goes against longstanding beliefs, but it’s a matter of science. Like Lt. Joe Friday used to say in the 50’s TV series Dragnet, it’s “just the facts, ma’am.”

Myth #1.  Alcohol abuse is the biggest cause of liver disease. We all know that alcohol leads to cirrhosis of the liver right? It turns out that by far the largest cause of liver failure in developed countries is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, or NAFLD. What’s more – and here’s the interesting part – wine seems to have a protective effect against NAFLD. The key here if course is amount, so as with all things wine and health, we are talking about a glass or two of red wine with dinner.

Myth #2. Alcohol destroys brain cells. While technically it may be true that alcohol is toxic to neural tissues, the presumption that any level of drinking is bad for the brain is not. In fact, one of the more surprising revelations to come from the research on wine and health is that cognitive function is objectively better in wine drinkers as they age compared to nondrinkers. This has been a remarkably consistent finding. So drinking –wine, at least – is good for the brain.

Myth #3. Any “French Paradox” benefit to heart disease from wine is nullified by alcohol’s contribution to high blood pressure. While not as widely discussed, this one has been a sort of trump card for the anti-alcohol group since it is well known that alcohol consumption contributes to hypertension. However, it has been confirmed that the heart health benefit still holds even among hypertensives – those who already have high blood pressure.

Myth #4. Wine’s benefits are all due to resveratrol, so you are better off taking a pill and skipping the alcohol.  This is an interesting conclusion but widely held even among “experts.” Resveratrol is indeed a remarkable substance, and wine is the best natural dietary source of this potent antioxidant. (That’s why I have a whole chapter on resveratrol in my book.) But while wine has been shown to have a multitude of benefits, there isn’t actually very much resveratrol in wine, at least compared to the amounts used in laboratory studies. So wine’s benefits by definition have to be mostly from something else.

Myth #5. Wine is empty calories and causes weight gain. Not so fast – red wine’s calories are all from alcohol, which is metabolized differently than carbohydrates so it doesn’t cause the spike in blood sugar. Wine drinkers overall have much lower rates of obesity, and while the polyphenol compounds that make wine red may not have calories, they are important components of a healthy diet.

So a toast to your health this Holiday season, and may you have a guilt-free indulgence or two.


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 …