Still Searching for the Salutary Effects of Wine

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Last year, I visited my friends in the great Golden State of California. I had the wonderful privilege of staying at one of those magnificent vineyards in the Calistoga region of Napa Valley. For me, it’s a place like no other where soil, water and air mesh in perfect harmony to produce the most delectable grapes that make even the choosiest oenophiles beam with delight.

In California, everyone seems to celebrate wine. My stay was only a week long but during those days and nights, a table would look inhospitable and deserted if it didn’t have a bottle of the local vino sitting proudly on it! So, I indulged. Upon returning home, I wondered about the wine I consumed during the trip and wanted to find out is this stuff really good for me?

The French look like they know the answer, and for some reason or other, aren’t sharing it with me. The French seem to keep their cool, can’t get fat and age well. They also fair healthy by having a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease despite their diets rich in saturated fats, high consumption of wine and fondness of cigarettes. I guess that’s why they call it the French Paradox. So what gives?

I’ll be honest, every time a new study is released about alcohol consumption, it confuses me even more. One day I find out that drinking wine is actually beneficial to my health, then the very next day, I find out it’s not so good as we once thought. Why the sudden change of heart?

In the March 4 th edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, results from the Million Women Study, including 1.28 million middle-aged women revealed drinking alcohol can increase the risk of cancer. According to the study, researchers estimate approximately 5% of all cancers diagnosed in women each year in the US are the result of consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol.

Researchers from the study estimate of every 1,000 women up to the age of 75, in the US, who consume one drink a day on average, an additional 15 can have cancers. That’s right, according to this particular study, even one glass of chardonnay can increase risk.

The very same week, two studies appeared in the journal, Gastroenterology suggest wine may actually protect against some common gastro-related conditions including heartburn and gastric reflux. While it is fairly well-established that alcohol consumption increases a person’s risk for the main form of esophageal cancer, these studies had rather different outcomes for other forms. The first study was from Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California. It found that the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus (a condition caused by chronic heartburn or acid reflux) was reduced by more than 50% when participants drank a glass of wine a day.

In the second study reported in Gastroenterology, scientists from Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland compared a group of participants who drank one glass of wine or more per month to a group who drank none. They found a 50% decrease in the risk of reflux esophagitis (caused by chronic heartburn) for the group who consumed wine.

So, the back and forth continues. While the American Heart Association (AHA) recognizes that drinking too much alcohol definitively increases risk for high blood pressure, obesity, breast cancer and stroke, etc. the organization also acknowledges there may be some benefit when taken in moderation, especially red wine. In fact, research has found drinking wine or alcohol increases the HDL (“good”) cholesterol and/or anti-clotting properties. Before you pop your next bottle in celebration, evidently, the same benefits can be seen by increasing physical exercise and/or taking an aspirin.

Research really points to some promising benefits with modest alcohol consumption (I’m talking about a single serving, or a 5 ounce glass of wine for women); a lower risk of heart attack, diabetes, dementia and stroke with a slightly higher risk of breast and colon cancers. But for most people, the benefits usually outweigh the risks.

Personally, I certainly am not putting down that glass of syrah while I wait for a definitive answer. I’m a strong proponent of the “everything in moderation” philosophy although “moderate” can be considered a relative term. For me, it is a glass of wine a day. Californians and French may have a different sense of moderation and most sensible people know their reasonable limits. If not, educate yourself more on the benefits and risks associated with drinking — don’t overdo it. Know your limitations, respect your body and live a healthier, happier life.

References

Anderson, Lesley A. et al., "The Association Between Alcohol and Reflux Esophagitis, Barrett’s Esophagus, and Esophageal Andenocarcinoma." Gastroenterology v.136, no.303 2009 799-805. 9 Mar 2009

Allen, Naomi E., et al., "Moderate Alcohol Intake and Cancer Incidence in Women." Journal of the National Cancer Institute101(5)24 02 2009 296-305. 9 Mar 2009

Lauer, Michael S. & Sorlie, Paul. "Alcohol, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: Treat With Caution." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 101(5)24 02 2009 282-283. 9 Mar 2009

Stein, Rob. "A Drink a Day Raises Women’s Risk of Cancer, Study Indicates." The Washington Post 25 02 2009 9 Mar 2009

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