Red Wine: Health Benefit Or Health Hazard?

Red Wine Health

First Posted: 6/02/2012 18:11 Updated: 6/02/2012 18:22

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

  • May Protect Against Breast Cancer

    In a study at the University of Calabria, Italy, the resveratrol compound was also found to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/09/30/red-wine-could-prevent-breast-cancer_n_988914.html" target="_hplink">block the cancer-fuelling effects of the female hormone oestrogen</a>, as well as inhibiting the growth of breast cancer cells that have become hormone resistant.

  • A Glass A Day Could Increase Breast Cancer Risk

    In a conflicting study at Harvard University it was found that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8862424/One-glass-of-wine-a-day-increases-risk-of-breast-cancer-research.html" target="_hplink">women who drink just four small glasses of wine a week increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 15%</a>, while those who drank up to four units a day were 50% more likely to develop breast cancer.

  • A <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/95/2/326.abstract" target="_hplink">recent study by Spanish researchers</a> found that the alcohol in red wine and the grapes themselves may both be beneficial for the heart. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/drinking-benefits_n_1233544.html" target="_hplink">The study analysed the levels of chemicals affecting inflammation and plaque on artery walls of 67 men after they drank red wine, red wine without alcohol, and gin</a>. When the man drank the alcoholic red wine and gin, levels of chemicals that reduce inflammation increased, and when the men drank the non-alcoholic red wine, levels of chemicals that reduce plaque increased.

  • No Proof A Glass A Day Is Good For The Heart

    A study by the Centre For Addiction And Mental Health, found that while there is a positive link between alcohol use and ischaemic heart disease, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/31/no-proof-a-glass-of-wine-a-day-is-good-for-the-heart_n_1243579.html?1328012457" target="_hplink">it cannot be assumed for all drinkers, even for those who have a limited intake</a>. 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."

  • May Help Prevent Gum Disease

    Research at Quebec's Universite Laval in Canada, found that <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4782826.stm" target="_hplink">chemicals found in red wine called polyphenols can block production of free radical molecules, which can damage gum tissue</a>, it was reported by the BBC. However, dentists warn there are other risks associated with drinking wine, and people should not think it was good for their teeth.

  • May Lower Risk Of Dementia

    A study at the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen found that <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/11/021112080015.htm" target="_hplink">people who drink wine weekly or monthly are two times less likely to develop dementia</a>. However, study author, Thomas Truelsen, MD, PhD, emphasised that "These results don't mean that people should start drinking wine or drink more wine than they usually do."

  • Helps To Fend Off Colds

    A year-long Spanish study or 4,000 volunteers found that <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1986514.stm" target="_hplink">drinking wine - especially red - can prevent people developing colds</a>. Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University said the results may be due to the antioxidant properties of red wine.

  • May Ward Off Lung Cancer

    Researchers from the University of Santiago de Compestela in Spain found that drinking red wine may help to ward off lung cancer. They found <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3959121.stm" target="_hplink">each glass a day reduced the risk of lung cancer by 13% compared to non-drinkers</a>. But Cancer Research UK case doubt on the findings, warning excess drinking increases the risk of other cancers, it was reported by the BBC.


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