by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
As I was reading the report of a recent study showing that alcohol consumption increased the rate of at least one kind of breast cancer, the whole subject of the health of wine re-presented itself to me.
This is a subject that I find fascinating, and I always read through the reports of any new study on the subject that appears in the wine-related websites I routinely read.
I have to admit to a certain bias since I would, of course, like to conclude that wine is a healthful beverage. That bias is not just as a wine producer, but also as a consumer, where I would like to think that my imbibing is protecting me from certain diseases and, in general, adding to my lifespan.
Certainly, if you’re trying to find evidence that wine is healthy, there’s lots of studies you can point to. Population studies seem to show that people’s that consume wine live longer. Of course, these studies are very difficult to analyze, since there are all sorts of other factors that could account for the result. Still, when so many different countries where wine consumption is relatively high seem to experience increased longevity, you would hope there’s something to the connection.
There’s certainly a lot of evidence out there as well that alcohol consumption in general, and perhaps wine consumption in particular, is good for the heart. I think it would be fair to say that moderate alcohol consumption is the key, since the benefits seem to disappear with high levels of consumption.
But for every indication that wine is good for you, there’s another study which points in the opposite direction. Certainly, there is mounting evidence that at least certain cancers are more common among alcohol consumers (such as the recent breast cancer study).
Nor can there be any denying that excessive consumption has obvious and incontrovertible downsides. Whatever may be the benefits long-term of alcohol consumption, one drunk driver can render all those benefits irrelevant. Having been rear-ended by a driver whose blood alcohol level was well beyond the legal limit, I can attest that only the good fortune that no other vehicle was coming the other way when I was pushed in to the intersection prevented me from being another drunk driving statistic.
Nor can we ignore the fact that excessive alcohol consumption leads to some very bad health consequences (cirrhosis of the liver, DT’s).
It seems that if there were a clear case that wine was a net benefit or net detriment, then that case would be made already. But I think what we’re going to continue to get is a series of studies that tend to establish that wine is good for some things, and bad for others. Undoubtedly, many of these studies will look compelling, but then fail to withstand the test of time as other studies show different results.
I think my sense of the issue is that moderate wine consumption probably is a net benefit, if only because the afflictions where it seems to be helpful are more prevalent than those where it seems to be harmful (e.g., heart disease is more common than is cancer). I think, however, that the net benefit is much less than at least some in the wine business would argue for.
It would do us well to keep in mind that few of us drink wine primarily for its possible health benefits—we drink because we enjoy it. I would certainly like to think that something I enjoy as much as wine is healthful to boot. While I’m not sure of what effect wine will have on the quantity of my life, I have little doubt that it increases the quality of my life. If it adds a few days to my life, so much the better. And if it should turn out it subtracts a few days from my life, then I guess that’s something I’ll just have to live with.