Friday, December 30, 2011

Is it all lifestyle or is wine the key to health? New studies considered.

Much has been made of the recent report from a 20-year study from Harvard that apparently found that it is the lifestyle choices made by wine drinkers, not the wine itself, that is responsible for longer and healthier lives. Following more than 800 people over the age of 55, the researchers found that it was the pattern of moderate drinking and associated lifestyle factors that most closely correlated to health and longevity.

Taken at face value, this study would appear to turn the French paradox on its head. But wasn’t the French paradox defined by heart health despite the unhealthy habits of the French? If that is so, then the findings from the Harvard researchers need to be reconsidered in a new light. On the one hand, it is widely known that aside from the French with their Galoises and penchant for fois gras, wine drinkers do tend to have healthier habits; we are better educated, we exercise more, and eat better. On the other hand, the French paradox – which is supported by substantial statistical data – suggests that there must be something special in the wine after all.

Sorting all of this out becomes tricky, because it isn’t simply all one or all the other. Positive lifestyle factors associated with moderate wine drinking do make a contribution, as this latest study suggests. There are numerous problems with these types of studies, such as self-reporting bias (which we have detailed here before), but the clear message to be drawn is that whatever benefits wine contributes to health and longevity aren’t reducible to biochemistry. It demonstrates that wine consumption with meals, on a consistent basis as an integral part of the lifestyle is where the chips begin to stack up. It underscores the role of alcohol, whether due to its salutary effects on cholesterol profiles or its ability to relax and unite around the dinner table.

So again we see that resveratrol isn’t the explanation, supplements aren’t likely to deliver the same benefits as a glass of wine with dinner, and health and happiness derive from a way of living. With that in mind, let’s all resolve as the new year begins to relax, savor the company of good friends and the joys of good wine. Cheers!
A more detailed critique of the research here.

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