An Australian health group has released a position paper claiming that red wine's health benefits are a myth. It's a bold claim, earning the Alcohol Policy Coalition of Australia (APC) a fair amount of press. It's also a claim that is short on evidence, according to leading members of the scientific community.
The APC is a group of Australian health organizations, "that share a concern about the level of alcohol misuse and its health and social consequences in the community," according to the paper. “After reviewing all the scientific evidence it appears any positive effects of alcohol in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease have been hugely overestimated. In particular, red wine has no special, protective qualities when it relates to cardiovascular disease," said Kathy Bell, CEO of Heart Foundation, a member of the coalition, in an accompanying press release titled, "Myth Busted: Red Wine No Magic Remedy for Heart Disease."
The APC released the paper to coincide with a meeting of the United Nations on non-communicable diseases. After the paper was published, Todd Harper, CEO of Cancer Council Victoria, another group member of the APC, called for higher taxes on alcohol in Australia as a way of reducing consumption.
The APC states in the paper that in 2008, alcohol was responsible for 2.3 million deaths worldwide, and that 22 percent of those were from cardiovascular disease. Excessive drinking has been proven to lead to cardiovascular problems. But numerous studies over the past few decades have produced evidence that moderate drinking can reduce cardiovascular disease, though the reasons are not yet understood.
The APC dismisses that, though its language hardly suggests a myth has been busted. "Some research suggests small doses of alcohol offer some protection against cardiovascular disease," the paper states. "However, this view is contested."
And there is only a passing reference to red wine. "Although red wine contains antioxidants, it is not a good source of antioxidants to prevent heart disease or maintain heart health," states the paper. "There is no conclusive evidence that different types of alcohol offer special protection." That statement is a conclusion draw from another statement-of-policy paper, from the Heart Foundation, published last year.
Dr. Morten Grønbæk, director of the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark and lead author of several alcohol-related research reports, said that he cannot find any new evidence or research in the APC papers. "There are still doubts whether there are additional health effects of drinking red wine to that of other types of alcohol," he told Wine Spectator. "But there are the vast number of clinical, experimental and epidemiological observational studies showing a significant beneficial effect of a light to moderate alcohol intake."
Grønbæk added that he personally disagrees that moderate alcohol consumption may not impart health benefits, particularly in regard to red wine.
The APC did not respond to several requests for comment from Wine Spectator.