Page last updated: Monday, February 09, 2009
Alcohol, the eternal fight for balance - Science will win by trusting in moderation by Professor Giovanni de Gaetano , Director of the Research Laboratories at the Catholic University of Campobasso, Italy
It all started with the French paradox. It was the early 90’s when researchers realised that French people had better cardiovascular health despite their fat-rich diet. The key was believed to be found in their alcohol intake, red wine to be precise. It appeared to be a good pattern for which to ascribe the observed protection. Since then many things have changed. Scientists thought wine deserved more attention, taking it into account in order to “unveil” the French secret. They were right. Future studies would show how wine - especially red wine - has beneficial effects for health.

As well as the blood thinning effects of alcohol itself, red wine keeps at bay cardiovascular disease- researchers state, by offering protection to the arteries thus delaying some threatening disease such as atherosclerosis, for instance. However, wine does not take plaudits from everywhere. Detractors are ready to draw the line. Alcoholism represents the other side of the coin, they say. Thus we need to be careful when claiming benefits from wine intake. Where is the truth? How can people make their choice when authoritative scientists make oppososing statements? To drink or not to drink, some would raise. The virtue is in the middle, ancient Romans would reply. In all likelihood they hit the mark.

It is necessary to go beyond the findings of the French paradox. Choose red wine, but in moderation and during meals. Now another question pops into the mind: how shall we define moderation? The problem is still a matter of debate. However, recent studies have tried to be more explicit by giving specific amounts people can refer to. The meta-analysis by researchers from the Research Laboratories at the Catholic University of Campobasso is one of these.

The research, published in the American Journal Archives of Internal Medicine a couple of years ago and quite frequently cited since then, assembled 34 scientific studies conducted during the past years worldwide using the statistic procedure of meta-analysis, allowing researchers to match data from different studies to achieve general results. In this way it has been possible to examine data concerning over a million of people, for which alcohol drinking habits were associated with all-cause mortality.

Conclusions clearly show that drinking in moderation (a couple of glasses of wine or beer a day) has beneficial effects on health. But that is not all: the study shows a positive effect of alcohol on an unquestionably hard parameter such as overall mortality. Alcohol as a life insurance? Not exactly. The key word is moderation. The research also confirms that excessive consumption of alcohol is absolutely harmful, and the risk of death regardless of beverage type does not decrease at all. On the contrary: the risk definitely increases as levels of intake rise above moderation.

It’s time to sweep away some doubts. My advice is to drink up to two glasses of red wine a day for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, this is known to everyone not only to the gourmands. Bearing this in mind, it is now important to make the same efforts once used to promote the beneficial effects of wine: to promote better patterns of drinking. We have to encourage the right way to drink wine and alcohol in general. That is little and often. Moderation remains the only option.

Reference: “Alcohol dosing and total mortality in men and women: an updated meta-analysis of 34 prospective studies” Di Castelnuovo, A.; Costanzo, S.; Bagnardi, V.; Donati, M. B.; Iacoviello, L.; de Gaetano, G. Arch Intern Med, 2006. 166(22): p. 2437-45.

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