Scientists have been debating the supposed health benefits of a daily glass of wine for decades; now an EC report on the carcinogenic risks of alcohol puts it back on target. A non-binding report by the European Commission lists all alcoholic beverages as products with a high risk of cancer, both in the lower intestinal tract and of the larynx. The report states that more than 10% of people who consume alcohol suffer from certain cancers.
Of course, the fact of including all beverages in the same bag has unleashed a great controversy in the wine sector, undoubtedly being the European and the most important in the world. Can a wine with all its natural elements be considered the same as a white distillate?
According to the report, which focuses on the effects of alcohol without going into other compounds, some prestigious scientists include a glass or two of wine daily in the Mediterranean diet, due to its anti-inflammatory components, especially in red wine, which provides cardiovascular virtues.
In the 1960s, the results of a pan-European study on the risk of cardiovascular disease and diet had French winegrowers dancing; for joy, of course...
The reason is that, as a rule, the diet of northern countries, which is much more based on animal fats than the Mediterranean diet, increased the risk of cardiovascular problems; however, the French seemed to be an exception despite their "Nordic diet" where butter is very important.
The French paradox
This was true for most northern countries except France, where their results were much closer to those of the southern European nations even though their diet is by the percentage of animal fats much more akin to the north than to the south. This discovery was called 'the French paradox' and science first attributed this exception to the consumption of wine, traditional in France.
The fact was duly publicized by winegrowers, winemakers, the media, and even doctors around the world until a subsequent review of the profiles of the people who entered the study revealed some interesting aspects. The first is that when the study highlighted the value of moderate wine consumption among middle-aged people, it did not take into account that such moderation was a symptom of a medium and high cultural level.
From this level, it was inferred that these people extended their moderation not only to wine, but to all their life habits in general and, of course, to their diet, in which they introduced fewer fatty elements than their compatriots and, instead, more fruit, legumes, and vegetables. In other words, the 'French paradox' was not so much. But does that mean that a glass of wine a day is neither good nor bad? That is where the debate begins.
Is a glass of wine good for the heart?
Even despite the detail that moderation itself is a sign of healthy living and this should translate into the results of the study, the study still showed that the French had statistically better heart health than Swedes, Danes, Dutch, and Germans among other peoples. It was therefore feasible that there were several components of wine that helped in some way to reduce cardiovascular risk.
Wine is a complex food with a multitude of substances diluted in approximately 14 parts of alcohol to 86 parts of water. Among these substances are polyphenols, natural antioxidants that are believed to intervene in the fixation of free radicals in bad cholesterol, making it less soluble and therefore preventing its intestinal absorption and thus its passage into the blood, where it is prevented from accumulating in the arteries.
On the other hand, the same alcohol, due to its high volatility, once in the blood, acts as an arterial dilator, widening the radius of the artery and therefore facilitating blood circulation and the detachment of layers of bad cholesterol that may have formed. In addition, polyphenols favor the so-called good cholesterol, which does not tend to accumulate in the arteries.
Is resveratrol the elixir of youth or bogus?
Consequently, from a vascular point of view, it seems that it could have a scientific basis to say that wine -in moderation, it is understood- can be good for health. There is talk of a glass of wine a day is the equivalent to 125 milliliters and it is recommended during meals, especially after the age of 50 and especially in women, because of its effect on the production of estrogens, a hormone that becomes deficient after menopause.
But the discoveries regarding the virtues of wine did not stop here, but a component with two aromatic cycles called resveratrol was found, which is normally produced as an immune response in plants after aggression or infection. Resveratrol, which also accumulates in the skin and especially in the grape seed, and therefore passes into the wine, was chosen as the magical component that explained the healing virtues of red wines.
Suddenly there was a proliferation of studies and articles praising its qualities and it came to be defined as a potent anticarcinogenic with qualities, also, in the prevention of cardiovascular risks. Of course, several pharmaceutical companies quickly managed to isolate it and sell it in capsules, without clarifying very well what it was for, although it was advertised as an 'anti-aging molecule'.
A glass triples the risk of cancer
The paroxysm came with a claim in some digital media that a study had shown that a glass of wine was equivalent to one hour of exercise thanks to resveratrol. The authors of the study were at pains to clarify that the study had been done with mice and with high doses of resveratrol, not comparable to human consumption. Since then, doubts about its benefits have been growing and several studies have contradicted the initial theories, even though it is still sold today as an 'anti-aging' supplement.
But the pendulum swung completely to the opposite side of the 'French paradox' when in 2012 a meta-analysis of more than 200 oncological publications appeared in the journal Annals of Oncology, in which a relationship between various cancers and alcohol intake, including the famous glass of wine a day, was confirmed. According to the same, alcohol intake triples the risk of suffering cancer of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, and breast.
The first three are due to contact of the organs with alcohol and the fourth is precise because of the rise in estrogens caused by alcoholic beverages. It seems that this postmenopausal hormone deficiency is intended to prevent tumors. The study was followed by letters from doctors asking their colleagues to be responsible when recommending wine as something healthy.
Who do we believe then?
In the absence of a further debate with new findings for or against, it can be concluded that:
Alcohol may increase the risk of certain cancers.
A small glass of wine daily during meals is good for a certain age to prevent the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Some doctors venture to say that a small glass of wine daily is recommended after the age of 50, especially in women and unless there are contraindications.
White wine has the same positive effects as red wine.
There is no evidence that resveratrol is of any use at all in the doses in which it is ingested in wine.
Apparently and according to a recent study by the University of the Negev in Israel, a daily glass of wine could help control type B diabetes, since alcohol consumes glucose, although the same study acknowledges the need to broaden the spectrum and time frame of the study.