Knowledge Bank

Oh no, not that old one about red wine being healthy again!

They usually trundle this old chestnut out in time for the Chrismas shopping, but this year ye olde traditional ‘scientific proof’ that red wine is good for your health is a little late. Perhaps they were aiming for Candlemass?

Drinking red wine in moderation may reduce one of the risk factors for breast cancer, providing a natural weapon to combat a major cause of death among U.S. women, claims new research from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the Journal of Women’s Health.

However, doctors have long determined that alcohol increases the body's estrogen levels, fostering the growth of cancer cells. Not to be thwarted, the Cedars-Sinai study claimed to find that chemicals in the skins and seeds of red grapes slightly lowered estrogen levels while elevating testosterone among premenopausal women who drank eight ounces of red wine nightly for about a month.

Researchers, apparently, have called their findings “encouraging”, saying women who occasionally drink alcohol might want to reassess their choices.

However, it is typical of one of these kinds of reports, no doubt funded by the wine lobby, to concentrate on the one good thing that the product helps with while ignoring all the harm it can also wreak on the human body at the same time. In addition, they're being slightly unrealistic with the 'eight ounces a night'. Don't they know that for many people, one drink leads to another?

The Million Women study reported that just one drink of alcohol a week increases your risk of breast, pharynx and liver cancer. This is because alcohol is metabolised in the body into toxic compounds which cause damage, over the long term. And because genetics, gender and age play an important role in how we interact with alcohol, a safe amount for one is not safe for another.

We continually hear of the negative effects of alcohol on health in the media. The number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England topped one million for the first time last May, according to official statistics. An NHS Information Centre report said admissions had increased by 12% between 2008-09 and 2009-10.

But despite the link between alcohol and cancer being known for over 100 years, it is an area of research that is little understood and, according to many scientists, underfunded. This means that drinkers, no matter how moderate their consumption, are not fully aware of the risks or damage, as the science is not there.

"It's an absolute myth that red wine is good for you," says Professor Valerie Beral from the University of Oxford and lead author of the Million Women study. "The evidence is not there."

Professor Roger Corder, author of The Red Wine Diet, has a slightly different view.

"Our research identified a group of chemicals called procyanadins which are polyphenols, and the key component in terms of protecting from heart disease."

Polyphenols, such as the antioxidant resveratrol, are found in the skins of red wine grapes.

"In high doses it does seem to enhance the lifespan of mice. But," he adds crucially, "you need huge doses."

What he didn’t say was that for a human to gain these benefits, they would have to drink thousands of litres of the stuff.

Even Professor Corder dismisses wines that effectively promote themselves as a health drink, with 'rich in polyphenols' or 'rich in antioxidants' on the label.

But, he says, two small glasses of a very tannic, procyanadin rich wine would confer a benefit.

"The problem is that most supermarket wines are low procyanadin and high alcohol," he said.

And isn’t that just the point? Most of us can only afford the vinegary, anti-freeze variety which is rarely drunk in moderation because, unless you have very special and unusual sense of taste, the only reason to drink it would be to get drunk!

Cheers!

To learn more about nutritional therapy, go to The Therapy Book.

For more about the red wine study, go to Science Daily.

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