A study published on 23 August 2018 in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet claims that even one glass of alcohol is toxic. But how is wine implicated?
Conducted by a team led by American researcher Max Griswold, the study is based on 645 data sources from 195 locations around the world. It was funded by Bill Gates and his wife and records sales of alcoholic drinks between 1990 and 2016. The team subtracted consumption attributed to tourists and added undeclared productions! What basis they used to do this remains a mystery. Using population age pyramids and consumption pattern surveys, it deduced daily alcohol consumption by type of consumer (by sex and age group). This was compared to deaths and pathologies that could be caused by alcohol. Out of 100,000 people, when none drink alcohol, 914 will develop a disease that could be attributed to alcohol. But if these people drink 1 daily dose (the equivalent of 10 g of pure alcohol), 4 more people will develop one of the diseases.
The media’s conclusion is: “Drinking a glass of wine a day is not good for your health after all...” (Le Figaro, 25/08), or “A glass of wine every day is not healthy...” (BBC on 24/08). This is the opposite to what we've been told for decades!
First of all, spirits and wines are once again lumped together - the study makes no distinction between industrially produced whisky and vodka and wine made by, say, small organic winegrowers. Everything is related to the dose of alcohol - an Anglo-Saxon approach that features on labels in Great Britain. The study conveniently cites Russia as an example, where “75% of deaths of men aged 15 to 55 are attributed to alcohol”. It is doubtful that the cause of death was Saint-Emilion or Beaujolais!
Consumption is related to a daily dose based on surveys and the data are then distributed over all the study sites. However, it is a well known fact that consumption in the Nordic countries (and also often in the English-speaking world) often implies a week of virtual abstinence followed by a weekend of binge drinking. How does the human body react to these recurrent episodes of binge-drinking? Is the impact the same as that of regular but moderate consumption? The study goes on to acknowledge the positive role of alcohol on certain pathologies (heart problems, diabetes...) but concludes that the negative aspects override the positive. Again, it is impossible to know whether the positive effects can be ascribed to tannic red wines or whisky. Finally, the survey goes beyond the remit of a scientific study, calling on the authorities to change alcohol control policies around the world (marketing, taxation, etc.) and openly encourages the promotion of abstinence! Could Anglo-Saxon prohibition have returned?
Basically, although we cannot conclude that a glass of wine every day is definitely beneficial, we must also be wary of such uncompromising conclusions, which lack proper discernment. In the simple words of French poet Charles Baudelaire: “There is no doubt, we can live without coffee, tea, spices, wine and almost without salt, as we can live without friendship, without comfort, without poetry, without music, without flowers and even without sun”.