Today is National Drink Wine Day. Drinking wine has often been reported to have cardioprotective effects – meaning it helps prevent heart disease. The question is, what is the science behind that and does it hold up?
The question began with something called the French Paradox, which has been seen in some other European countries as well. The paradox is that in France there is a low incidence of heart disease even though people consume a diet high in saturated fat. Wine consumption was thought to provide the benefit through flavanoid and nonflavanoid components, such as resveratrol. However, other studies have shown that even non-wine alcohol consumption in moderation is associated with lower heart disease.
There is a key word in all of this – “associated”. This means that we observe what people do (or did) and see the outcomes. We don’t actively change anything for them. So, maybe it isn’t alcohol consumption at all. In the European examples, it is thought that people generally consume a more Mediterranean diet which has other components with heart health benefits. We don’t really know if it is the alcohol or a host of other factors. And to consume enough of the components like resveratrol that are thought to be beneficial, you had have to drink an excess of wine. Alcohol consumption of any kind at these levels is known to have health risks, such as liver disease, cancer, obesity, stroke, and also detrimental effects on the heart.
So should you drink alcohol? This is similar to the dark chocolate discussion from earlier this month. Don’t go out and add alcohol to your diet because you think it will be good for your heart. You don’t need to switch to wine from alcohol or other spirits for health reasons either. The key is that if you do already drink, please do so in moderation. That is defined as 1-2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. What is “a drink”? A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, and 1-1.5 ounces of spirits.
Raise a 4 ounce glass of wine to moderation today if you want to celebrate. But do it for the enjoyment, not for your heart health.