The wine paradox

During the weekend I read a story in my local paper about how bad alcohol is for you. The author equated the carcinogenic impact of drinking with smoking cigarettes or asbestos. She said that “if we treated alcohol as we do other carcinogens, in terms of lowering our exposure to risk, we’d have no more than two drinks a year”.

This morning, I started reading the news, and found another story about microbial health, and the importance of polyphenols on maintaining the balance in our gut. Red wine was recommended as a source of polyphenols. In addition this this, there are numerous studies heralding the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, which features wine in moderation (2 glasses per day with meals).

So which is right? The NZ Herald story basically said that the media were in denial about alcohol consumption and the issues it causes. And yes, binge drinking is an issue in our society, as with many others. Many of the most foolish things I’ve ever done have been a result of drinking too much. But how much is too much, really? There are generations of Italian people (and Spanish and Croatian and Portugese) who have a glass of wine with every meal outside of breakfast and their cancer  rates are lower than ours.

Let’s be honest, I like a glass of wine. I figure I have very few vices these days, I don’t smoke, I eat well, I exercise regularly, I don’t bite my nails. I’ve recently spent quite a bit of time and money finding out what my body is lacking nutritionally, and taking steps to redress that balance. Wine is my only vice. I don’t really want to give it up.

That said, I know that I have my limits. Ideally, I try to have 2-3 alcohol free days per week (I try, I don’t always succeed). I then aim to only drink 1-2 glasses of wine per night, outside of social occasions. Even at social occasions now I draw the line at about 4 glasses, generally consumed over many hours with food. I’ve finally learned that food is essential to countering the effects of booze! I drink pretty much wine only. I avoid cocktails and anything else that might have hidden volumes of alcohol, or extra sugar to give even more of a kick.

Although I like a drink, I like to be in control of my behaviour and what comes out of my mouth. I also value my weekends, so don’t want to spend days in bed with a hangover. Being on the far side of 40 means I don’t bounce back the way I used to, so I need to be careful.

Preaching complete abstinence feels like puritanism. I question whether we should reject consuming anything that’s less than good for us. It seems to me that life can become very boring, very quickly. The negative aspects to drinking alcohol are well documented. But what if you practise moderation?

According to Food & Wine, The American Heart Association defines moderation as 1-2  120ml glasses of wine per day. Some health benefits of moderate wine consumption are:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease and attack
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower risk of blood-clot related stroke
  • Slows brain decline

In addition to this Medical News Today highlights the positive impacts of moderate wine drinking on mental health, specifically depression. Which is no surprise to me – a glass of wine after a tough day has a wonderfully restorative effect.

I guess what I’m saying is that the truth, as often happens, is somewhere in between. Binge drinking is no good for anyone, but a small glass or two a day could actually be beneficial, when combined with regular days off drinking altogether. And I don’t think we can underestimate the positive impact of a glass of wine on our mental wellbeing. Cheers.



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