A new international study is pouring cold water on
suggestions non-drinkers might enjoy even greater health
benefits if they tried a few glasses of red wine.
The harmful effects of alcohol on conditions such as liver
cirrhosis, injuries and many cancers have been firmly
But scientific debate has continued about whether light to
moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of coronary
heart disease and stroke.
In 1991, the US news programme 60 Minutes aired a broadcast
on the so-called ''French paradox''- that French people ate a
high-fat and dairy-fat diet yet had relatively low occurrence
of cardiovascular disease.
Bordeaux scientist Serge Renaud suggested on the programme
that the moderate consumption of red wine was a risk-reducing
factor for the French, given worse heart health outcomes for
British and Americans, who also had a high-fat diet.
Prof Jennie Connor, of the University of Otago preventive and
social medicine department, and a medical spokeswoman for
Alcohol Action New Zealand Ltd, said many studies had showed
a benefit of light drinking, compared with no drinking.
But this was highly disputed because the design of the
studies meant other explanations for the findings could not
be ruled out.
Breakthrough research published this week in the British
Medical Journal suggested the sceptics were right, she said
in a statement.
With a quarter of a million participants, this study showed
that individuals of European descent with a genetic
predisposition to consume less alcohol had a reduced risk of
coronary heart disease and ischaemic stroke, and lower levels
of risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Prof Connor said people with the genetic variant drank less
or no alcohol.
''They were not otherwise different from the general
population, but had lower blood pressure, were slimmer and
had lower risk of both coronary heart disease and the most
common form of stroke,'' she said.
The study showed that reducing alcohol consumption, even for
light to moderate drinkers, was ''likely to be beneficial for
cardiovascular health'', she said.
''This is a major challenge to the idea that light to
moderate alcohol consumption is good for your heart, and
supports the contention that the previous studies have been
flawed,'' she said.
Dick Bunton, a Dunedin cardiothoracic surgeon and a director
at award-winning Rockburn Wines in Central Otago, said he had
not yet read the latest study.
But he would not recommend even light drinking of wine as a
therapeutic health benefit for a non-drinker.
Some previous studies had suggested some health benefit in
light to moderate wine consumption, he said.
But great care needed to be taken in assessing overall
alcohol-related health risks, not only to the heart, but also
to other organs, including the liver.
He acknowledged that research which suggested health benefits
of some wine consumption also needed to be interpreted in
light of the knowledge that some wine drinkers were also more
likely to be non-smokers and to undertake regular physical
Prof Doug Sellman, director of the National Addiction Centre
at Otago University's Christchurch campus, said the British
study was ''an important turning point in the discussion of
benefits of drinking for physical health''.
For a long time the supposed benefits of drinking had been
promoted by the industry, the media and some health
But previously doubtful claims had now been shown to be
''very unlikely indeed''.
He said consuming a few glasses of wine could well be ''good
for the soul'' but consuming more than a bottle of wine a
week was likely to be somewhat harmful to the body.