Red wine, the alcohol industry and dodgy science

Last week I saw a piece in a popular magazine for women suggesting that red wine should be the alcoholic drink of choice during lockdown. I swore at my phone, tweeted and deleted and then sat down to write something a little more considered – red wine, the alcohol industry and dodgy science.

Oi!! Red wine is good for you! Oi!! Alcohol is good for the heart! Oi!! Let’s go for a drink!

This is the triumphant call of the determined drinker who so desperately wants to believe that there is some value in red wine (beyond making your teeth grey and your lips scaly). The research that had us all chanting that a glass a day was good for us has now been widely disparaged. It was fundamentally flawed.

But who can blame people for shouting these claims when they were presented as science fact, not just once but many times and then repeated year after year by lazy journalists, many of whom are being paid to review and promote wine.

The Science Is Well Dodgy!!

Loads of studies have concluded that red wine and other alcohol is good for you. In these studies, the scientists generally took groups of non-drinkers and compared their health with moderate drinkers. HOWEVER, they chose to overlook the fact that many of the non-drinkers were also ex-heavy-drinkers. SERIOUSLY!?! Yes, seriously.

When a group of researchers looked into 45 of these pro-alcohol studies they discovered that –

“38 of the 45 identified studies contained either former and/or occasional drinker biases, and 16 used inadequate measures of typical daily alcohol consumption.”

Basically, when the people with the clipboards compared group A (the non-drinkers) with group B (the moderate drinkers) they found that group A was pretty damaged. They concluded, therefore, that moderate drinking is good for you!

Let’s say you are a middle aged male who drinks a small glass of red wine 3 times a week and your health, so far, is reasonable. Now we compare you with an ex-drinker who used to consume a bottle of whiskey a day but is now abstinent. Your heart and liver look alright but the non-drinker has liver damage and early signs of heart disease. Aha! Red wine is good for you!

Nobody Knows What The F*ck Moderation Actually Means

When group B (the moderate drinkers) were asked, how much alcohol do you drink each day, the participants were mostly left to decide what constituted ‘a drink’. There was no standardised option! Is it a large whiskey or half a shandy?

Not surprisingly, the alcohol industry spread this fake news far and wide. Drinking in moderation is safe and can have some health benefits. The trouble is, nobody knows what moderation means. Is it a weekly tipple? Nightly? Monthly? Who knows? How can you promote moderation as being safe with no clarification of what moderation is?

This lack of clarity suits the alcohol industry perfectly. They stand back, shout some vague nonsense like ‘drink responsibly’ and watch as people make uninformed choices, all the time spreading more confusion and misinformation.

The Alcohol Industry Paid For The Research

The single biggest issue with much of the wine health research has to be that it was funded by the alcohol industry. The people selling you your alcohol paid scientists to give you good news about alcohol and heart health. Is that allowed? Hey, this is alcohol we’re talking about. Anything goes! When the alcohol industry regulates itself and therefore only really has itself to answer to, it manages to get away with pretty much anything. Can I say alcohol is good for you? Oh yes, I believe I can!

The Portman Group is the responsibility shop front of a collective of alcohol producers: Heineken, Pernod Ricard, Diageo, Budweiser amongst others. They in turn set up Drinkaware, a UK based organisation which advises the UK Chief Medical Officer and the public on safe levels of alcohol. Basically, alcohol companies set the alcohol consumption guidelines. The inmates are running the asylum.

Red Wine, The Alcohol Industry And Dodgy ScienceHow do you like The Portman Group logo? When I first saw it I honestly saw a middle finger sticking up at me. A big fat ‘UP-YOURS’ to a public who literally swallow what they are fed while generating billions in revenue and profit. I realise of course that it’s a bottle but the middle finger just made more sense to me.

So How Much Can We Drink And Is Alcohol All Bad?

The short answer is none… and yes. Alcohol is a class 1 carcinogen alongside tobacco and gamma radiation and any health benefits you might get from the antioxidants in red wine will be outweighed by the toxicity of alcohol. If you still REALLY want to drink alcohol then do it very rarely. The advice Drink Aware should actually be promoting? Avoid alcohol. 

©LIZ HORSMAN 2020

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