Log In / Join Now

French Study Concludes Wine Drinkers Tend to Be Healthier

But lifestyle and socioeconomic factors may be the reason

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: May 24, 2010

The headlines for several newspapers and websites sounded like a dream come true: "People Who Drink Half-Bottle of Wine a Day Are Healthier," "Moderate Wine Drinkers Have Healthier Hearts ... and Minds," and "A Half-Bottle of Wine a Day Keeps the Doctor Away." The stories were crowing about a new French study, scheduled to be published in an upcoming issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that finds that people who drink moderate amounts of wine are healthier in several key categories than nondrinkers. But is the hype true?

Certainly, multiple studies have found links between wine and better health, particularly cardiovascular health. (They have also found links between wine consumption and increased rates of some cancers.) But scientists have yet to conclusively determine how wine may improve health. And a closer analysis of the French study shows that the lifestyle habits and socioeconomic status of those who drink wine may be bigger factors.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers at the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at various Paris public hospitals, who asked questions of nearly 150,000 people from the Paris area. They found that 13.7 percent of men and 23.9 percent of women did not drink at all. Drinkers were divided into four groups according to their alcohol consumption: never, less than one glass a day (low), up to three glasses daily (moderate) and more than three glasses daily (heavy). All the subjects also underwent a gamut of health tests.

The researchers found that women who drank moderate amounts of alcohol had lower body-mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure and blood lipids, including bad cholesterol. Men who drank moderately had lower body-mass index, heart rate, blood pressure and better blood sugar levels, plus lower stress and depression scores.

But rather than proof that wine should replace an apple a day, the study authors conclude that moderate drinkers tend to have healthier diets, balance work and leisure more effectively and exercise more. In comparing the groups of drinkers versus nondrinkers, study co-author Dr. Boris Hansel said in a statement, "Importantly, the findings showed moderate alcohol consumption is a powerful general indicator of optimal social status, and this could be a key reason for improved health in these subjects."

That doesn't mean wine can't improve people's well being, but more study is needed.

Edward Framer
Denton, TX, USA —  May 27, 2010 1:36am ET
Nice to see your closing comments: "...the study authors conclude that moderate drinkers tend to have healthier diets, balance work and leisure more effectively and exercise more." All of these factors are known to contribute to a person's chances of having good health.

Another very important statement from your article is as follows: "Importantly, the findings showed moderate alcohol consumption is a powerful general indicator of optimal social status, and this could be a key reason for improved health in these subjects."

You should perhaps explain problems the authors were having with attribution in an even more scientific way. CORRELATION (several types of which are usually used as the statistics in these studies) DOES NOT PROVE CAUSATION (never has and never will). We need randomized control trials, but for ethical reasons will have a very hard time getting them. Real proof that wine drinking improves health will take a much more sophisticated set of experimental and statistical methods than current studies usually bring to bear.

I say all of this as one who thoroughly enjoys the moderate consumption of wine. Best we remember that these studies suffer from many limitations and not allow ourselves to crow too loudly about their apparently pro-wine results.
William Gaffney Md
Orange County, California —  May 27, 2010 2:05am ET
I agree with the above comments. In the absence of a well-executed, randomized, double-blinded, intervention trial controlled for confounding variables, the debate as to the health benefits of wine and beverage alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle will continue. That said, there is enough supportive peer-reviewed research published in the last 20 years to convince the majority of health experts that wine in moderation is good for you.

The current (2005) US Government Dietary Guidelines concur: “Alcohol may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation in middle-aged and older adults. The lowest all-cause mortality occurs at an intake of one to two drinks per day. The lowest coronary heart disease mortality also occurs at an intake of one to two drinks per day. Morbidity and mortality are highest among those drinking large amounts of alcohol. Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation - defined as the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.”
Chanaud De Lestang
Sceaux, France —  June 24, 2010 8:17am ET
I agree with the French Doctors. So far, it is knowned by tens of studies over centuries that Wine (it is much more true for the Red one's) is good as long as you are moderate (up to 2 glasses for Men and one for Womem). The Red Wine have more than 200 molecules being one of the most complex product. Some molecules such as Polyphenols have been isolated and proved as very good for Human bodies. Probably the Sociological effect is part of the job. In France, we never take a glass of Wine without a way to do it : We seat, we relax, we discuss about the Wine, we choose it... All those actions takes time and the effect if beneficial as we focus on pleasure. It also have alcohol in Wine. Effect of moderate alcohol is also good. It helps to relax which double the "no stress" effect of it. Moderation in everything is the Key !

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.