December 6, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Wine for Your Heart?  Think Again

“Any heart gains from drinking alcohol in moderation are likely outweighed by the harm, say researchers.”  That’s how a story on BBC News begins that warns that alleged benefits of alcohol for heart health may not be trustworthy.  A New Zealand team investigated earlier scientific studies that purported to show benefits of drinking in moderation, and found that “the way the studies were carried out did not allow the researchers to be able to say with certainty that the findings could not due to other factors rather than solely the amount of alcohol consumed.”  This did not mean that health benefits have been falsified – only unconfirmed.  Meanwhile, the known harms of alcohol may outweigh any benefits.  “If so, the public health message is clear,” the article warns.  “Do not assume there is a window in which the health benefits of alcohol are greater than the harms – there is probably no free lunch.”  One theory keeps getting more and better confirmation, though: exercise is good for the heart.  See the latest example on EurekAlert.

The science is inconclusive that there are any coronary benefits to alcohol consumption, but the harms are well known.  It may just be that alcoholics tend to have clean arteries.  There are two lessons in articles like this: (1) much of what we think we know is wrong, and (2) scientific findings are tentative.  The assumption that wine is healthy has been going around since the 1960s and 1970s.  How many people have been led to believe that they should drink wine more often for good health?  How many following that line got drawn into alcoholism, or swamped any gains with greater harms?  This is not to take a hard-line position on who is right, but just to remind everyone that some claims by scientists may be based on flawed studies.
    If you choose to drink during the holidays, don’t claim you do it for health reasons.  The last sentence in the article makes the best sense: “Our advice remains the same – the best way to reduce the risk of heart disease is to quit smoking if you smoke, increase levels of physical activity and eat a healthy balanced diet.”
    A reader pointed out that it is not the alcohol, but the antioxidants, that confer upon wine its healthy benefits.  But consumers can find equal or better antioxidants in pomegranates, dark chocolate and many other non-alcoholic foods and drinks.  It would seem most drinkers primarily want the taste of the alcohol, or else there would be a large market for non-alcoholic wine among health-conscious consumers who want the antioxidants without the harm of ethyl alcohol.  Wine consumption still cannot be rationalized, therefore, on claims it is good for the heart.

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Categories: Health

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