What's the REAL connection between wine and your health?
Anyone who hasn't been living the past few years on that crazy Lost island (with the ghosts and tropical polar bears and droll plot lines) has likely heard that wine is purported to have benefits to your overall health.
But the connection between better health and wine is not as straightforward as you might think. In fact, far from being a direct link, the wine/health connection is more like a Homeric journey, full of unexpected twits and turns.
A journey that is detailed in this post, with the Dude here acting as your host, as we visit the science lab, examine the (non-Karmic) laws of cause and effect, stop in Galapagos, and give a nod to Quantum Theory, while also troubleshooting my home wireless network. Also involved, unavoidably, is France (hey, we are talkin' wine here, after all), and we end unexpectedly at MSNBC (where nobody really goes!).
It will all make sense in a minute or two (okay, maybe 5). So pack your intellectual bags, and let's get rolling on the road to wine & health...
Ever since the (in)famous 60 Minutes special exploring the French Paradox (told you we couldn't avoid France), scientific studies have been trying to test if wine consumption is the de facto reason behind why France's high-fat-diet eating residents don't keel over in their 30s from heart attacks.
To even begin to answer whether or not wine is or isn't imparting various health benefits, including seemingly being the elixir of long life for the French, I've gotta explain the difference between scientific theory, and medical fact.
In science, it can be difficult to prove things as being indisputably true. In fact, whenever scientists state that something has been solved, you can bet within 10 years it will get turned totally on its ear. Which is partly why we have theories instead. Quite often, a scientific theory is never called fact, especially if it's complex. Over time, if it stands up to enough quantitative evidence then it is taken to be true, even though to actually prove it might remain improbable. Good examples of this are certain aspects of Quantum Mechanics, as well as Dawin's island turtle-inspired theory of Evolution - it's unlikely that we can ever prove this theories unequivocally, but because they so accurately predict events in our universe, and are backed up by overwhelming amounts of scientific evidence, you'd be kind of nuts not to treat them as fact.
In science, it can be difficult to prove things as being indisputably true. In fact, whenever scientists state that something has been solved, you can bet within 10 years it will get turned totally on its ear.
That's a bit different than medical facts. Medicine is concerned with cause and effect relationships. I.e., identifying positively that you have a certain disease that is causing your symptoms, and treating that disease as effectively as possible.
To illustrate the difference, let's take a practical example from the House of Dude. Let's say my wife calls me and tells me that she can't get to the Internet via our home network. [Editors note: you have my permission to take a break at this point, and get yourself a glass of wine... but I swear to the heavens that this post will eventually teach you something about wine... hang in there, people!]. If when I get home I discover that the wireless router has been turned off, then I've got a pretty good case for having proved a cause-effect relationship why Mrs. Dudette didn't have Internet access. BUT... I can't then theorize that I every time my wife calls me, her Internet access will be down - that prediction would get me into a lot of trouble!
Okay, but back to wine, what does this all mean for the average wine-drinkin' Joe or Jane?
Certain compounds found within wine have been proven to have potential health benefits. Of this, there can be little doubt based on the scientific evidence carried out in statistically meaningful studies. The potential list of health-friendly (including cardiovascular and anti-oxidant) wine compounds and their effects on your health is a long one so I won't reprint it here. [ Check out these handy lists from WinePros.org and BeekmanWine.com for detailed info. on that. ]
Little evidence exists to suggest that wine itself is the de-facto cause of those health benefits. At least, not in the 'Surgeon General can endorse it' sense. It may feel obvious to normal folks that if wine has compounds that are good for you, then wine is probably the cause of the positive health benefits seen in wine consumers during scientific studies. But scientifically that conclusion cannot safely be drawn from the findings of existing studies (especially not in the medical field). For now, it's just a guess - a reasonable one, but a guess nonetheless.
It may feel obvious to normal folks that if wine has compounds that are good for you, then wine is probably the cause of the positive health benefits seen in wine consumers during scientific studies. But scientifically that conclusion cannot safely be drawn from the findings of existing studies.Plenty of evidence exists to link alcohol abuse to poor health. This one is also supported by a great deal of evidence, so it does not follow at all that if wine is good for you, more wine is better for you. In fact, exactly the opposite is true - alcohol abuse can be deadly to your health.
What's scary is that fewer and fewer people seem to be getting the message. Check out this (non-scientific) poll from MSNBC for starters - not a perfect example but it shows that more people in that survey are drinking daily than not. Add in the rise in health-care costs from rising alcohol abuse in the States and in the UK, and you have a troubling trend on your hands.
Maybe the French Paradox has less to do with what the French eat and drink, and more with how they approach life in general. One of the code ideas of Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat is that French culture teaches how to respect food and wine, leading ultimately to true enjoyment of it with all of your senses (and away from abuse). While we're probably never going to unequivocally prove that one, there just might be enough evidence to treat it as true...
(images: hwcoc.org, novusvinum.com, wordinfo.info, msnbc.msn.com)