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Wine as Part of a Healthy Lifestyle: A Review of 2013 Conferences

International WineHealth13 conference

The International WineHealth13 conference was held in Sydney, Australia, July 18-20, 2013. This was a gathering of scientific researchers in the field of alcohol and health, and included members of the Australia Wine Research Institute and the Boston University School of Medicine. Their conclusions, based on years of studies and papers presented at the conference, could be summarized by ten health benefits of moderate drinking (Daily Telegraph, July 19, 2013):

(1) Lower rates of heart disease, particularly evident with moderate red wine consumption since both alcohol and polyphenols are strong risk reducers.
(2) Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. A large clinical trial of Spaniards at high risk for cardiovascular disease shows that a Mediterranean diet with large amounts of extra virgin olive oils and more than seven glasses of wine a week in the week of the trial led to about a 30 percent decrease in risk. A French study of 35,292 men over about 28 years found that when more than 50 percent of their alcohol consumption came from wine, subjects showed a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease as well as lung, lip, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, bladder and rectal cancers. Moderate wine consumption was associated with a 40 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a 20 percent reduced risk of death from cancer.
(3) Increased longevity. An extensive analysis of 18 previous studies (with data on more than 48,000 cancer deaths) looking at the relationship between all-cancer mortality and alcohol by a group of leading scientists showed that light drinkers had statistically a 9 percent lower risk of dying, moderate drinkers showed no effects, and heavier drinkers showed a 32 percent increased risk of mortality from cancer. Another study of men followed over a 40-year period suggested that drinking up to half a glass of wine a day can boost life expectancy in males by five years
(4) Decreased risk of diabetes mellitus. A Norwegian study reported that moderate alcohol consumption led to a lower risk of developing Type II diabetes and less tendency for autoimmune diabetes. The lowest risk was for people who consumed alcohol at the rate of about one drink (12g of alcohol was used as a typical drink) per day. The strongest protection came from wine versus beer or spirits.
(5) Prevention of dementia. Regular light to moderate drinking in a number of studies is associated with a lower risk of dementia and neurological disease, while heavy drinking is associated with a higher risk.
(6) Less risk of stroke. A study of United States nurses (which agreed with previous international research) showed a decrease in the risk of stroke among light to moderate drinkers in comparison to non drinkers and heavy drinkers.
(7) Better bone health. Light to moderate drinking can reduce the risk of fractures and improve bone mineral density. Moderate drinking has also been shown to be beneficial for factors leading to osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
(8) Lowered risk of rheumatoid arthritis. A large follow-up study of Swedish women found that moderate consumption (at least four drinks a week) led to a 37 percent lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and supports previous research.
(9) Better sleep. Small amounts of alcohol in the evening lead to a shorter time required to fall asleep and improved sleep patterns in the first part of the night. Larger amounts of alcohol can also quicken the onset of sleep but have adverse effects on sleep patterns
(10) Lowered risk of some cancers. A large study in the United Kingdom found that moderate alcohol consumption lowered the risk of several types of lymphoma and plasma cell neoplasms. See also (2) and (3).

The Australian Research Institute outlined the benefits of moderate drinking after the conference and noted that drinking one to two standard glasses of wine or other alcohol regularly provides health benefits for most healthy people. The Institute pointed out the findings are not applicable to young people. The key is moderate intake over a regular period, but not necessarily every day. Heavy or binge drinking is clearly associated with adverse health consequences. The Australia National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that for healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol related disease or injury.

Public health experts in Australia complained that the conference presented one-sided evidence on wine’s health benefits and that the health benefits of wine have probably been overestimated. Brian Vandenberg, senior policy adviser at Cancer Council Victoria, told, “Alcohol leads to weight gain and it’s linked to many cancers, so a conference about the health benefits of wine is about as credible as a conference about the health benefits of smoking or saturated fat.”

WineVision conference

The inaugural WineVision conference was held in November 2013 in London. Dr. Erik Skovenborg, a member of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, told attendees that he found no evidence to support the notion that one alcohol free day per week had health benefits, providing one drinks in moderation. He emphasized that any health benefits from drinking were only applicable to moderate drinkers.

Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair

Dr. Justin Cohen, research fellow at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, surveyed 913 upper and middle-class urban Chinese aged 18 to 50. He found that Chinese consumers drink wine primarily for its health benefits and not for its taste or luxury status. The second most important motivation for drinking wine was helping consumers to relax. Taste was the fourth most important reason for drinking wine. Red wine is specifically bought because of its perceived health benefits and its favored taste. Reported in www.thedrinksbusiness, November 11, 2013