French Study Concludes Wine Drinkers Tend to Be Healthier

But lifestyle and socioeconomic factors may be the reason
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.

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