Elisabeth Holmgren is the Director of the Department of Research and Education at Wine Institute. She is responsible for developing and managing public policy, research and education programs related to the wide variety of health and social issues that impact the wine industry.
On Sunday, November 5/ CBS 60 Minutes disproved that old saying, "Lightning never strikes twice in the same place." The highly respected in-depth news program updated its original ground-breaking wine and health story with a new report featuring a couple of new twists. Veteran anchor Morley Safer highlighted an extensive new Danish study that found a strong association between moderate wine consumption and decreased mortality. The ten-minute segment also included more assertive statements on wine and health from scientists confirming that the amount of supporting data has dramatically increased in just the past few years.
Dr. Curtis Ellison, one of the original French Paradox investigators, expressed his doubts about the legitimacy of a blanket abstinence public health message. "I think that message is not supported by scientific data now," he told Safer. "I think it's time for health agencies to say, 'Let's give a balanced message.' Excess alcohol is very bad for public health, for individual health, but moderate amounts will most likely prevent heart disease."
Almost exactly four years ago to the date, 60 Minutes gave a phenomenal boost to the scientific evidence that moderate wine consumption with meals helped prevent heart disease. Then Safer had interviewed Dr. Ellison, from Boston University's School of Medicine, and Dr. Serge Renaud, from France's health research agency INSERM, about their new research on what was called the French Paradox. The two scientists had found that despite similar fat intake, France's heart attack rate was one-third that of the U.S. A key factor they attributed to this was the French custom of drinking wine with meals.
The most recent program replayed some of the earlier footage, introduced with the comment by Safer that "the good news for those of you who like to have a glass of wine with dinner is that science has not changed its mind. In fact, the evidence now, four years later is even stronger."
Along with new interviews with both Drs. Ellison and Renaud, the program interspersed clips of their presentations at VinExpo, the wine industry trade show held in Bordeaux, France, last June. The program included Dr. Ellson's comment in his speech that abstinence from alcohol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.
In a follow-up interview, Dr. Renaud stressed that antioxidants in addition to alcohol are likely to be responsible for wine's beneficial effects. At the time of the original broadcast, this key association was not yet established.
A major highlight of the recent segment was the results of this year's Copenhagen City Heart Study, "perhaps the most significant study to date on the relationship between health and alcohol," according to Safer. Published in the British Medical journal, the government-supported study revealed that subjects who consumed wine daily were much less likely to die during the 12-year study period than consumers of other alcoholic beverages or non- drinkers. Among more than 13,000 men and women aged 30 to 70 who were tracked from 1976 to 1988, wine consumers had half the risk of dying as those who never drank wine.
"In conclusion," Morten Gronbaek of the Institute for Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen and colleagues state, "our study shows that light and moderate wine drinking, in contrast with beer and spirits drinking, is associated with a strong dose-dependent decrease in all-cause mortality, attributable to a decrease in mortality from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease as well as from other causes."
In discussing these conclusions with Safer, Dr. Gronbaek suggested that wine's antioxidants may, as other antioxidants have been reported to do, have a protective effect against cancers. While other scientists concur, this theory is only speculative at this time.
Contributing to the significance of the Danish study is the fact that this is one of the most thorough wines specific studies completed in a population outside of France or other traditional wine-drinking regions. In fact, as Safer noted in his broadcast, Derunark was practically a non-wine drinking country until it entered the European Common Market about 20 years ago. "Now we drink 30 percent more wine than we did 20 years ago," Dr. Gronbaek explained, "and heart disease has decreased by 30 percent accordingly."
The experts interviewed also addressed the issue of breast cancer in women and specified that the association with alcohol is unproven. Dr. Gronbaek noted that moderate consumption of wine by women lowered their risk of overall mortality, including cancers. Safer further pointed out that 46,000 women die annually of breast cancer while more than 500,000 die from heart disease. Although not discussed in the "60 Minutes" segment, recent results from the Harvard University Nurses' Health Study included a decreased incidence of total cancer or breast cancer for women who consumed up to 1.5 drinks per day. Another recent study conducted by noted breast cancer expert, Matthew P., M.D., reported that women who drank wine actually had a seven percent reduction in breast cancer risk, which Dr. Longnecker also suggested may be due to wine's potent antioxidant compounds.
The program also addressed the importance of the pattern of alcohol consumption, contrasting the benefits of the European pattern of regular daily mealtime consumption with the more detrimental American pattern of binge drinking. Dr. Ellison suggested that failure to teach responsible drinking patterns contributes to alcohol abuse in the United States.
The broadcast concluded with Dr. Ellison commenting, "I think that data now are so convincing that the total mortality rates are lower among moderate drinkers. It seems quite clear that we should not do anything that would decrease moderate drinkers in the population.",
More than 90 scientific reports have been published since 1991, providing strong evidence for the wine, alcohol and health phenomenon. These findings clearly point out that moderate wine consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
For additional information on any of the research studies mentioned in this article, please contact the Department Of Research and Education at Wine Institute at (415) 512-0151.
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