The claim that red wine, operating through its component chemical, resveratrol, has health benefits (as seen on 60 Minutes) is actually an anti-alcohol campaign. Moderate drinking has been shown over decades in scores of well-controlled studies to reduce heart disease. Since this is the way most Americans die, alcohol reduces mortality. A similar series of studies has now shown that moderate drinking reduces dementia.
But Americans will never accept this - our attitudes towards and experiences with alcohol are too corrupted. And so people who want to drink alcohol actually ignore that it is good for you and instead seek strange and fallacious theories that some mysterious chemical may accomplish what alcohol is known to do.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, March 6, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Inject Resveratrol, Don't Drink!
The claim that red wine, operating through the impact of its component chemical, resveratrol, has health benefits (as seen on 60 Minutes) is actually an anti-alcohol campaign. Moderate drinking of all forms of alcohol has been shown over decades in scores of well-controlled studies by the most prestigious epidemiological research groups to reduce heart disease. Since this is, by far, the way most Americans die, alcohol reduces mortality. A similar series of studies has now shown that moderate drinking reduces dementia.
But Americans will never accept this - our attitudes towards and experiences with alcohol are too corrupted. And so people who want to drink alcohol actually ignore that it can be good for you and instead seek strange and fallacious theories that some mysterious chemical may accomplish what alcohol is known to do.
I had a neighbor - let's call him Malcolm -- who had some vague idea of what I did; every time he saw me he said, "So, they've found that red wine is good for you." And this was a guy I drank scotch with! Incurably optimistic, I always responded, "No, all forms of alcohol have the same benefits." Yet each time I saw Malcolm subsequently, he repeated the same erroneous bromide. I finally moved, thank God.
Writing in the liberal publication, Slate, a wine drinker says:
Personally, I'm thrilled to learn that red wine could help me avoid cancer, outlast opponents on the tennis court, survive a nuclear attack, and lead a long, lucid, and Viagra-free life. However, a little caution is in order. Most of the testing with resveratrol has been done on mice, and they have been given ungodly amounts of the stuff.
Every idea in this sequence is negative and wrong. Red wine doesn't benefit people, alcohol does. Somehow, attributing the advantages of alcohol to wine seems more wholesome - Italians do it! And, for God's sake - vodka, scotch, and beer can't be good for you.
None of these drinks helps you avoid cancer (actually, that's a negative sidelight to alcohol's positive effects). But, of course, this list is meant to be ridiculous, rather than to accurately educate. And then the quick shift - like a three-card Monte player - from wine to resveratrol, which research suggests has its own benefits - when administered to mice in massive doses. All of this is meant to say, "I like wine - I know it's bad for you - despite this crazy stuff people are saying." In other words, this supposedly liberal wine lover shares America's temperance outlook. (To give Mr. Steinberger credit, he is actually saying, "Americans are so kooky they need to justify enjoying wine by thinking of it as medicine.")
But here are the data - in a meta-analysis combining the results of 34 well-designed studies (those controlling for all other possible factors - of course, the authors were Italians): "Low levels of alcohol intake (1-2 drinks per day for women and 2-4 drinks per day for men) are inversely associated with total mortality in both men and women." (Except Americans wouldn't consider 3-4 drinks daily "low levels of alcohol.") For those of you who don't register "inversely," this means, "drink moderately, live longer," according to the unanimous conclusions of the best research conducted over many years. In the same volume, Harvard researchers in the Health Professionals Study found that, controlling for all other aspects of healthful living (diet, weight, exercise, smoking), drinkers had significantly fewer heart attacks.
I know, impossible. Forget that you read this. Research like this, repeated endlessly, has no impact on American attitudes anyhow.
Unfortunately, ignoring real data has implications. In terms of our existences here in the United States (as I posted to this blog), the social and geographical groups most likely to drink in the United States have been extending their life spans, while the life expectancies of those least likely to drink have been declining. Okay - integrating drinking into a person's life is too complex a phenomenon to simply prescribe it. What's bad is that people think by not drinking they are helping their health! (Obviously, I'm putting alcoholics in a separate group, as the epidemiological research itself does.)
So our erroneous attitudes about drinking are part of American's declining health relative to other nations of the world - whom we are duly striving to convince to live like us.
Just as the Archives of Internal Medicine (in which the two prior studies were published) is not an alcohol industry propaganda rag, the most prestigious alcoholism journal in the United States, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, has just published the following summary: "brain functional comparisons between older moderate alcohol consumers and nondrinkers have received more recent epidemiological study. In over half of nearly 45 reports since the early 1990s, significantly reduced risks of cognitive loss or dementia in moderate, nonbinge consumers of alcohol (wine, beer, liquor) have been observed. . . ." Here, you summarize what this means.
I see the resveratrol scam as a different plot from the one Mr. Steinberger uncovers. I see it as a way to deprive of us of a modern miracle - something people enjoy and do voluntarily prolongs their lives and sharpens their thinking into old age! Is there any better proof that there is a God (and alcohol - albeit wine - does play a significant positive role throughout both the Old and New Testaments)?
Oh, and then there's that grape juice kookiness - don't get me started!
Ah, forget it, Malcolm - Yes, maybe they'll develop a drug that can do for you what alcohol has already been proven to do. I'm so excited - I'm waiting with bated breath for the drug companies to come up with this unbelievable new pill!