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News1995July › Wine: the good and the bad news › July 1995

Wine: the good and the bad news

Moderate wine-drinkers those who drink between three and five glasses a day halve their chances of suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke

Moderate wine-drinkers those who drink between three and five glasses a day halve their chances of suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke.

In a recent Danish study, spirit drinkers who drank the same quantities every day increased their risks of a fatal attack; spirits were beneficial only if drunk once a month. Beer seemed to have no effect either way.

The good news for wine drinkers seems to be the more the better-up to a point.

Risks of a heart attack fell in relation to the amount drunk; those who drank more than six glasses of wine a day were in the lowest-risk category of all. Conversely, abstainers were at highest risk.

This latest vindication of wine drinking was made by researchers from the Danish Epidemiology Science Centre in Copenhagen who studied the drinking habits of 6,051 men and 7,234 women aged between 30 and 70.

Their findings are in line with health and social changes in Denmark, where fatal heart disease has fallen by 30 per cent in the past 15 years, while wine drinking has nearly doubled.

Researchers think that the ethanol in the wine may be having a beneficial effect, as might the tannin in the red wine. Red wine also contains antioxidants and flavonoids, which are thought to protect against heart disease and some cancers.

But before we all raise a celebratory glass, the researchers were quick to point out that alcohol is also linked to cirrhosis, some cancers and violent death (BMJ, May 6, 1995). Furthermore, the study didn't examine the other possibly detrimental effects of losses of essential minerals like magnesium caused by wine, a natural diuretic.

Alcohol drinking may be less beneficial if you are a woman. While women also enjoy the protection against heart disease if they drink small amounts of alcohol, drinking may increase the risks of developing breast cancer.

Women who are already in a higher-risk group of suffering heart disease are the ones most likely to benefit from drinking alcohol, American researchers have concluded.

Scientists from the Channing Laboratory in Boston, Massachusetts, studied the health of 85,709 women for 12 years and discovered that any benefits were lost if they drank more than 30g of alcohol a day. A bottle of beer contains 12g of alcohol. At that level, deaths from breast cancer and cirrhosis increased dramatically (NEJM, May 11, 1995).


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