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Red Wine: Health Benefit Or Health Hazard?

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Every time you begin to feel guilty about your nightly glass (or two) of red wine, another news story comes to the rescue hailing its health benefits and easing our collective conscience.

And what better way to celebrate the good news than by opening another bottle of Pinot and raising a glass to the chimes of “for medicinal purposes”?

From protecting your heart health and lowering breast cancer risk to fending off colds and treating gum disease, red wine blows your average ‘superfood’ out of the water when it comes to celebratory press coverage.

But while the stories about wine’s health benefits are circulated on social networks and quoted after work in the pub (over a bottle of red, of course), the warning stories, which make for decidedly more depressing reading, are far easier to forget (especially after that second glass).

To raise awareness of the darker side of drinking, the government is about to launch a campaign under the Change4Life banner, which highlights the importance of drinking within the recommended daily limits.

The campaign follows a survey of more than 2,000 people, which revealed that 85% do not realise that drinking over the recommended alcohol limits increases the risk of developing breast cancer while 65% were unaware it increases the risk of bowel cancer.

The ads aim to hit hard with alarming stats (did you know regularly drinking two large glasses of wine triples the risk of developing mouth cancer?).

Meanwhile, a recent investigation into the relationship between alcohol consumption and heart disease has challenged the long-held belief that drinking a glass of red wine a day is beneficial.

The study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that while there is a positive link between alcohol use and ischaemic heart disease, it cannot be assumed for all drinkers, even for those who have a limited intake.

Dr Juergen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research at CAMH, said: “It’s complicated.

"We see substantial variation across studies, in particular for an average consumption of one to two drinks a day."

He adds: "Even one drink a day increases risk of breast cancer, for example," says Dr Rehm.

"However, with as little as one drink a day, the net effect on mortality is still beneficial. After this, the net risk increases with every drink."

With so much conflicting evidence it’s hard to know where we stand when it comes to moderate drinking – and what moderate drinking even is.

Does that glass of wine help protect us from breast cancer or increase our chances of developing the disease?

Over fears the current guidelines are unclear, last month MPs urged alcohol guidelines to be changed. Because of the lack of evidence to support previous claims that people could safely drink in moderation every day, they are recommending that drinkers should give themselves two alcohol-free days a week.

This echoes the stance of the Royal College of Physicians, which advised drinkers to curb their alcohol consumption to four days a week, in November 2011.

So before you crack open your Monday night bottle of wine (everybody deserves a treat on a Monday, right?), here are few of the myriad studies that reveal the good, the bad and the conflicting effects of our favourite tipple.

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Red Wine: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
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