Onderzoekers houden van wijn. Tenminste om de effecten daarvan op de gezondheid te onderzoeken. Ze verdelen het lichaam in stukjes en kijken wat wijn drinken daar voor invloed op heeft. Bij hart en vaten is dat weer anders dan bij je lever. En zo kun je jaren aan de gang blijven, nieuw budget aanvragen, publiceren en zelfs promoveren, waarmee aanzien en inkomen stijgen. Ook wat er zoal in wijn zelf zit, of kan zitten, houdt onderzoekers veelvuldig bezig. Metalen in de bodem, chemische vervuiling, uitstoot van kerncentrales boven wijngaarden, kerosine van dalende vliegtuigen in de buurt, het zijn onderwerpen die ook de consument bezig houden. Maar er is nog steeds geen alles dekkend antwoord op de vraag: Kan wijn kwaad en zo niet hoeveel kunnen we er dan van drinken. Experts spreken elkaar tegen of kraken elkaars onderzoekresultaten af. Voor collega Michel Henry van de Toronto Star aanleiding om de stand van zaken nog eens door te lichten.
“Depending on the study, day of the week or which way the wind blows, red wine is a healer or a killer.
Since the early ’90s, when researchers noticed French people drank a lot of red wine yet remained healthy and thin, North Americans have been obsessed with unlocking its health secrets.
Studies poured out of universities, grants were diverted to the study of red wine and the research didn’t disappoint. Until it did. A few years, it was revealed that a lead researcher falsified his data. That sent everyone back to the lab.
And recently the health effects of alcohol have been in the news, as Health Canada debates proposed guidelines for how much alcohol people should drink.
PROS: BOTTOMS UP
It’s leggy, tasty and makes you tingly all over. But that’s the Clark Kent to red wine’s real, superhero powers.
Alcohol is heart healthy, thinning our blood and dilating our arteries, making it easier for blood to flow and keep the heart pumping. As a result, red wine can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke by 10 per cent, says Dr. Jürgen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
It also fights free radicals. Polyphenols, plant compounds that neutralize hazardous particles, shield our cardiovascular system from free radicals, which come from things such as pollution and second hand smoke and cut into the walls of our arteries. Some argue that you could get the same antioxidant potency from plain old grapes (or grape juice). But for reasons researchers still don’t quite understand, red wine’s unique blend of polyphenols and alcohol pack way more of a punch as a dynamic duo than as lone warriors.
CONS: PUT DOWN THAT GLASS
A carcinogen, alcohol contains agents that increase your risk of cancer on whatever they touch: the mouth, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, as well as something it doesn’t touch, the female breast. The effect is worse for women, who shouldn’t drink as much as men and suffer more consequences if they do. Women who have one drink a day increase their risk of contracting breast cancer by six per cent, and that increases the more they drink and if they’re overweight, post menopausal or have a genetic history of the disease, says Rehm.
Plus, red wine is fattening. Even “moderate” drinking pads the waistline. One five-ounce glass of red wine is about 125 calories, according to registered dietitian Shauna Lindzon. “Drink one a day and that’s more than 3,000 calories a month. That’s a gain of one pound a month. Twelve pounds a year. It adds up,” she says. And that doesn’t include the overeating that regularly follows a night of drinking.
Excessive drinking negates red wine’s heart-healing powers and increases the risk of stroke and death of the heart muscle, says University of Toronto registered dietitian Nishta Saxena. “It defeats the purpose of drinking red wine at all,” she says.
Some of us start down the slippery slope to addiction by throwing back a few drinks at dinner or the odd party. Drinking moderately shouldn’t present a problem for most of us, but it could push people who are genetically predisposed to alcoholism over the edge.
Excessive drinking can wreak havocon organs, such as the liver, where it’s metabolized. It also weakens the immune system, leaving us vulnerable to attack from infectious diseases.
And of course, drinking impairs our judgment, increases our reaction time and ups our risk of accidents, such as car crashes. Plus alcohol is dangerous to a developing fetus, so no drinking during pregnancy.
THE FINAL CALL
Should you drink red wine?
“There’s no one piece of advice that works for all people,” Saxena says. “It’s a superior form of alcohol, but does that mean everyone should drink it? No.”
A little bit of red wine is good for most people, but how much you should drink is in debate.
Canada’s proposed guidelines recommend women drink no more than 10 drinks a week, or two a day, and men no more than 15 drinks a week, or three a day. A drink is a small can of beer, three and a half ounces of wine or one shot of whisky.
Rehm, Saxena and some heart associations recommend less: no more than one drink a day for women, and two for men.
And Rehm says you need to drink only a little to get the health benefits. He suggests you think of alcohol like it’s medicine — with a recommended dosage of half a drink every two days.
“But who are we kidding,” he says. “No one drinks for their health!”
Exceed Canada’s proposed limits and the health risks increase, slowly at first, then exponentially, Rehm says, eventually outweighing any of alcohol’s benefits.
Drink even more and face serious health consequences, such as death, Rehm warns.
In general, organizations concerned about cancer push for stricter guidelines while those concerned about heart disease prefer looser ones, Rehm says.
“The basic gist is look into your family history,” he says. “What have your parents, grandparents, relatives died from? Make a decision to drink based on that.”