Wine protects you from heart attacks

I previously reported on a large study that found that wine had a beneficial effect on mortality due to heart disease, cancer and all causes.  That study was published in 2000, since then there has been further research including this meta-analysis of 26 studies that evaluated wine (and beer) consumption separately, i.e. not just total alcohol consumption.

It reports that the relative risk of vascular disease is 0.68 compared to non-drinkers, i.e. 68% of the risk that non-drinkers face.  This relative risk (RR) estimate is from a meta analysis of studies that controlled for social class and  other possible confounding factors.

Equally interesting was the attempt to model the dose response relationship, i.e. what is the recommended daily dose of wine.  The resulting model actually comes out at 750 mls per day (a bottle a day) as representing the lowest risk of heart disease!  Now a strong word of caution, the model is based on 7 studies (where a dose relationship could be worked out) and so could only achieve statistical significance for estimates up to 150 mls a day.  So put simply, drinking 50 mls a day is better than zero, drinking 100 mls a day is better still, drinking 150 mls a day is even better still….and this trend probably goes on for a while, maybe ‘peaking’ at 750 mls but that’s a bit of a guess, albeit a mathematically guided guess informed by the current research.  I highlight this not to recommend that everyone drinks a bottle a day but rather to highlight that many public health warnings are based on less well informed guesses plus a good deal of politics rather than the medical evidence.  Something which I’ve written on previously.

The epidemiological evidence is clear that some alcohol consumption, especially wine, reduces your risk of dying (particularly from heart disease).  This is especially true if you are middle aged, and don’t drink and drive.  There’s clear evidence that a bit more wine (possibly due more to regularity of consumption rather than drinking more at one sitting) is better for you.  At the other end of the spectrum very high alcohol consumption is associated with greater risk of dying.  So there has to be a point where the level of alcohol consumption stop lowering your risk and it starts increasing, and a consumption level where the risk of death is higher than non-drinkers but there is not sufficient evidence to pinpoint this ‘recommended daily dose’.  Not surprisingly the health warning indsutry errs on the conservative side, they probably fear that if they tell people “no more than 4 drinks a day” then many people will actually have quite a few more.

Again then, public health guidelines should be taken by intelligent people as guidelines only.  The medical evidence continues to be rather positive about non-binge wine consumption.

References:

Castelneuvo et al (2002) “Meta-Analysis of Wine and Beer Consumption in Relation to Vascular Risk”, Circulation (the journal of the American Heart Association), Vol.105, p.2836-2844.

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