We love to hear that our bad habits are healthy – it gives us permission to continue making poor choices. For example, the rumor that chocolate was a health food had women everywhere jumping for joy! Not surprisingly, just about every newspaper and women’s magazine reported on it, and it quickly became widespread knowledge that “a piece of chocolate a day is healthy.” While it’s been demonstrated that the polyphenols in cocoa may help lower blood pressure and improve endothelial function, when you swaddle it in piles of sugar, fat and animal protein, it’s certainly not healthy. Even dark chocolate, which often doesn’t contain any milk products, is still made with copious amounts of sugar. Yet so many of us like to believe that chocolate is healthy so that we can eat it without guilt.
Like chocolate, we’ve also been told that a glass of red wine a day is healthy. YAY! But wait – where did that rumor come from? The Framingham Heart Study, probably the largest population-based study ever conducted on heart disease, found that alcohol consumption of up to two glasses a day actually lowered the risk of coronary heart disease. But that’s just your heart, and your total state of health is made up of much more than just your heart. For example, while small amounts of alcohol may help decrease heart disease, it may also be killing off your liver. (This is the problem with relying on sound bites in the media for your health facts.) Indeed, that same study found that people who drank more than 2 glasses of alcohol a day increased their risk of death due to cancer and liver disease.
Red wine, specifically, is touted as being healthy in moderation because it contains resveratrol, which comes from the skin of the red grapes (thus why red, but not white, wine is recommended.) Resveratrol has a reputation for it’s anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar lowering, cardiovascular and possibly lifespan effects. But what most media sound bites don’t report is that these studies were done in yeast, fruit flies, nematode worms, fish, mice and rats and they often found contradictory results; positive results with resveratrol have yet to be shown in humans. Furthermore, many scientists theorize that resveratrol may have some negative effects: It may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells, slow the development of blood vessels, and may actually cause cancer.
What’s more, red wine only has a very small amount of resveratrol in it – about 1mg per glass. So even if it’s found that resveratrol is healthy for humans, the jump that the small amount found in a glass of red wine has notable benefits is a big jump indeed.
And wine has much more in it than just resveratrol…
Ethanol, which is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, is toxic to pretty much every organ it comes in touch with. It is the same stuff we use in solvents and fuel. In fact, Ford’s Model T ran on ethanol until 1908. Not surprisingly, it increases the risk of liver damage, certain forms of cancer, hypertension, fetal damage, malabsorption, chronic pancreatitis and nervous system damage, among other maladies. So the question is this:
If you want to increase your intake of resveratrol, why would you choose to get your resveratrol from alcohol, which is so toxic, when you could just eat some red grapes instead?
If you’re truly concerned about your health, I think it’s better to save alcohol for very special occasions. If you wouldn’t drink it when you’re pregnant or feed it to your child, why would you make it a regular part of your own diet?