It is no secret that certain sectors of the anti-alcohol lobby are campaigning to influence public perception on alcohol and health but where does wine fit into a healthy lifestyle and a healthy society? And can both sets of headlines be real?
The answer to this question is yes. The health and social effects of alcohol and one of the major forms of alcohol consumed in Australia – wine – are dose dependent. The relationship for wine and health is best described as a J-shaped curve, that is, when you consume a light to moderate amount of wine, preferably slowly and over a meal, the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes from blocked arteries and even certain cancers such as gastric, lung and non-Hodgkin lymphoma diminishes. The risk to health increases, however, after approximately two standard drinks per day, for both men and women.
There are some diseases such as cancers of the aerodigestive tract (mouth, larynx, pharynx and oesophagus), colon, rectum, liver and breast (for women), however, where the risk of harm increases with any alcohol consumption. These are the body tissues and organs that come into direct contact with the carcinogenic ethanol component of wine. It is important to minimise the risk to health if you choose to consume wine, and one of the most important ways to do this is to adhere to the NHMRC Guidelines to reduce risks from drinking alcohol (2009) which recommend drinking no more than two standard drinks per day. We know that young people in particular don't necessarily adhere to these guidelines, and are at risk not only of harms to health such as accidents, but also the health and social harms of violence.
The difference between the two sets of headlines reflects which part of the curve you focus on. The wine industry and biological and medical researchers generally focus on the part of the curve associated with moderation, but the clinicians, psychiatrists, social workers and those associated with the health and social harms of alcohol consumption generally focus on the area associated with abuse. Recognition that the curve has two parts is needed, as well as understanding that the industry only wants its consumers to "enjoy wine in moderation".
Where can I find out more about wine and health?
The Australian Wine Research Institute's website contains a significant selection of resources related to wine and health, including frequently asked questions, published papers and a series of fact sheets.