Should I drink wine for my health?

About 10 years ago, in my early teens, I pledged not to drink any beverage containing alcohol. Thus far, I am keeping my promise, and have no regrets. Recently, however, I’ve been reading reports about the health benefits of drinking wine regularly. Other reports seem to contradict those findings. I’m confused. Is wine drinking good for one’s health?

Our society is bombarded by media reports that regular intake of alcohol is beneficial to one’s health. Many articles in recent scientific literature have discussed the health benefits of alcohol. It would be dishonest not to acknowledge that the intake of small quantities of alcohol has been shown to have some health benefit as far as coronary artery disease is concerned. This has also been demonstrated in the laboratory setting by exposing the cells lining the inside of artery walls (endothelial cells) to alcohol; some functions of these cells are enhanced by alcohol.

However, it is important to remember two things. First, this particular evidence has been observed experimentally in cell cultures, but life is not lived in a Petri dish! Second, none of the coronary vascular benefits apply to young people. The subjects studied are middle-aged and older, mainly men. Most of the individuals have had risk factors for coronary artery disease. The studies have been observational and not randomized. This means that they have not been designed to evaluate prospective (future) outcomes or results, and therefore their absolute significance is open to question.

To balance the argument on the benefit related to red wine, it must be emphasized that unfermented red grape juice has been shown to have significant health benefits. This is because of the presence of substances such as resveratrol and flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. They decrease clotting and have a positive effect on the endothelial cells.

There are many negative aspects related to the consumption of alcohol. I believe this whole debate can be summarized in the words of an editorial in a prominent medical journal: “The data on alcohol and cardiovascular disease are still correlative, whereas the toxic effects of alcohol are well established.” Alcohol is highly addictive; up to 15 percent of those who use alcohol will become either problem drinkers or actual alcoholics! Alcohol is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation in many countries, including the U.S.A.; this is because of the toxic effects of alcohol on the fetus if alcohol is consumed during pregnancy. Alcohol is a leading cause of death through violence, accidents, trauma, and diseases induced by this toxin. Alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of various cancers, including breast cancer; liver disease is also increased by excessive consumption. These undesirable side-effects of alcohol are seldom mentioned, especially in the lay press, when the so-called “health” benefits of alcohol are reported. Unfortunately, the press doesn’t cover the social, physical, and emotional consequences of alcohol consumption.

Are college/university groups affected by alcohol problems? Here are some compelling statistics that emerged from a large study on college students, aged 18 to 24, in the U.S.A. All problems are related to alcohol use.

In the light of these facts, it does not make sense, nor is it a medical advance, to substitute one disease (or many diseases) for a few health benefits to the coronary arteries. This is particularly true when proven preventive therapies such as exercise, smoking cessation, lowering cholesterol levels, and maintaining normal blood pressure have none of the undesirable effects of alcohol.

I hope you are now more determined than ever to stick to your decision not to take alcoholic beverages. The evidence should encourage you and you will not have regrets. The best way to avoid the risk of becoming an alcoholic or suffering the consequences mentioned above is to not take your first drink! God bless and strengthen you in your resolve.

Peter N. Landless studied medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He has specialties in family practice, internal medicine, and cardiology, with a special interest in nuclear cardiology. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Landless now serves as associate director of the Health Ministries Department of the General Conference of Seventhday Adventists. Address: 12501 Old Columbia Pike; Silver Spring, Maryland 20904; U.S.A.

References

  1. T. Wallerath, D. Poleo, Li Huige, et al., “Red Wine Inveases the Expression of Human Endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase,” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 41(2003), 3:471-478.
  2. L. Fremont, “Biological Effects of Resveratrol,” Life Science, January 14, 2000, pp. 663-673; M. Serafini, G. Maini, and A. Fervo-Luzzi, “Alcohol-free Red Wine Enhances Plasma Antioxidant Capacity in Humans,” Journal of Nutrition 128(6):1003-1007.
  3. I. J. Goldberg, “To Drink or Not to Drink?” New England Journal of Medicine 348:2 (January 9, 2003), p. 164.
  4. R. W. Hingson, T. Heeren, R. C. Zakocs, et al., “Magnitude of Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity Among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24,” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 63:2, March 2002.
  5. Goldberg, p. 164.