Let's Drink to Our Health! Are there health benefits of wine? Everyone wants to know!
While the answer is certainly "Yes", this tricky topic deserves some discussion. While there are benefits, there can also be risk to your health with alcohol consumption.
Where did this idea that wine can be beneficial to your health come from?
For many centuries, many cultures have found that wine is an important part of happiness and a healthy lifestyle. If you live in many parts of Europe this is almost a self-evident truth that people take for granted. However, more recently people noticed that there are lower rates of heart disease in France, despite higher rates of smoking and eating fatty, rich foods. This French paradox became a topic of much conversation. Why should they be able to get away with smoking and a greasy diet and yet have less health problems? One of the first explanations came from the fact that the average French man or woman drinks much more alcohol, particularly wine, than people in the United States. While this was the first difference that was pointed to to explain the paradox, other explanations certainly contribute to it as well. Diets in Europe tend to have higher rates of natural ingredients, especially garlic and olive oil, which also have been shown to have similar health benefits of wine. So the answer is not simple, but the spotlight was turned to wine and much research has followed.
Many studies have shown that moderate wine drinking can have health benefits.
Most of these studies have shown less heart disease in wine drinkers. These effects are thought to be through several compounds that are found in wine, particularly antioxidants, resveratrol and bioflavonoids. These compounds seem to have effects in preventing atherosclerotic disease of the blood vessels. In part they may have effects on cholesterol, lowering LDL, the bad cholesterol, and raising HDL, the good cholesterol. Other studies have shown that wine drinking decreases the risks for some forms of cancer as well. To be fair though, while most studies have shown health benefits of wine drinking in moderation, there have been some studies which are more controversial.
What are some of the problems with recommending drinking wine for your health?
For one, what defines "moderate drinking" is up to debate. While many Europeans would argue that many glasses (or even bottles!) of wine with dinner each night is moderate and healthy. Many other experts define moderate drinking as only an average of a couple glasses a day for men and less for women (because of their difference in weight and metabolism). So the verdict is not out on what is the "ideal" amount of wine to achieve health benefits while avoiding the negative effects of alcohol. Additionally, this ideal amount may vary dramatically from person to person.
Secondly, alcohol consumption, particularly alcohol abuse, has been associated with a number of negative health effects. Most notably, chronic abuse of alcohol leads to damage to the liver and can eventually lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. This is a potentially lethal condition which may require a liver transplant to cure. Additionally, some forms of cancer, particularly head and neck cancers and stomach cancer, have been associated with excess alcohol consumption in some studies. Alcoholism can also lead to many psychological, personal and family problems.
Finally, people vary in the amount of alcohol they can safely consume. In addition to the weight and metabolism differences, some people are more prone to addiction than others. While some wine drinkers can continue to drink a moderate amount of wine, some people will get used to drinking more and more and will lead to alcoholism. For this reason, generally advising drinking for the could theoretically lead to some people abusing alcohol and having deleterious effects.
So where does all this leave us? Is wine healthy?
Again, the answer is certainly yes, but you must temper that enthusiasm for wine with responsibility. If you can drink moderately, then you may benefit, if you cannot, you can observe harmful effects of alcohol. Also, wine is not a cure-all. Just drinking wine is not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle with exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking. This information and website should not be taken as advice to drink. Each person is different so there is no way to make general statements about the health benefits of wine. When in doubt, ask your doctor, who knows your own health issues and lifestyle, what they think is a safe amount of consumption.
So drink to your health! But do so responsibly and moderately, so that you can continue to enjoy great wine and food for many years to come!