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Moderation: let's drink to that

A report says drinking wine can cut the risk of heart disease by 25%: we examine the small print

In a country where the average over-15 drinks 2.7 glasses of wine a day, the news that wine is good for you has a certain appeal.

As it does for some of the expat population, who may have moved to France for the sun and the simple life, but who also appreciate simple tastes and like the fact that, in most places, wine is abundant and cheap.

However, for every study that says wine is good for your heart, there is another that says it increases the chances of cancer, of liver problems, of an ulcer, of an accident or of impotence.

The most recent study, at the University of Calgary, discovered that the risk of heart disease can be cut by up to 25 per cent with low to moderate consumption of alcohol.

Moderate means the equivalent of an average glass of wine a day for women (15g of alcohol) and two glasses for men (30g of alcohol). This intake had several effects, including raising levels of HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) and cutting the chances of heart damage.

Wine drinkers were between 14 and 25 per cent less likely to have heart disease than teetotallers, because alcohol encourages chemicals that clean up bad cholesterol.

Another study, reported at the end of last year, highlighted that how and when you drink can have a major impact of the danger of suffering heart disease or a heart attack.

The study of 50- to 59-year-old volunteers from Lille, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Belfast found that binge drinkers were twice as likely to contract heart disease or die of heart attacks as moderate, regular drinkers, although, surprisingly, even binge drinkers had a slightly lower risk of heart disease than teetotallers.

The Calgary study looked at 4,690 scientific articles published in medical journals over the past six decades, involving more than a million participants, and then whittled them down to 84 that covered the blood markers indicating heart problems.

The researchers, led by Dr William Ghali, from the Institute for Population and Public Health at the University of Calgary, concluded that moderate intake of alcoholic drinks leads to increases in HDL-cholesterol, apolipoprotein A1, and adiponectin, and decreases in fibrinogen, all factors associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

One part of the research also highlighted that the beneficial effects were the result of the alcohol itself, and not associated lifestyle factors.

Dr Ghali told the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper: “We should move toward developing guideline recommendations for both patients and the public [so they are] at least informed of the potential benefits.”

But that did not mean teetotallers should immediately switch to drinking and he recognised that the message was double-edged.

He added: “We know there is a slippery slope – excess alcohol intake can lead to social problems, injury, liver disease and other conditions.”

Despite this, he said doctors and other researchers should bear in mind that “the analysis, looking at overall mortality, did indeed suggest that, on the balance, moderate drinking was more beneficial than harmful”.

French alcohol and cancer researcher Catherine Hill, an epidemiologist at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Val-de-Marne, disagrees.

She said the studies contained no details about the amount of alcohol being consumed; this was known to make a significant difference.

She told Le Figaro that the graph of alcohol consumption/heart disease was like the letter “J”, where heart risk dipped with light alcohol intake, but very quickly rose to exceed the risk faced by teetotallers.

For other heart problems, such as arrhythmia and other vascular diseases,
the risks rose with the dose. She said the message that moderate consumption was good for you was “absolutely wrong”.

Dr Hill said the average French consumption was 2.7 glasses of wine a day, which meant the major part of the population was drinking more than three glasses a day. Even the Calgary study recognised that, at that level, alcohol was not safe.

She added: “Under these conditions, the message to drink moderately is reassuring for the population and acceptable for the drinks industry, but it’s catastrophic for public health. The real message is to drink less.”

Although most studies do seem to accept that low to moderate consumption can have health benefits, there is wide-ranging evidence these benefits are tightly defined and that, when abused, alcohol has dangerous effects on health and society.

How much is a glass of wine?

A 75cl bottle of wine at 13 per cent ABV contains about 9.75 units of alcohol, with each unit being 8g of alcohol. Pouring a bottle of wine into four glasses will give nearly 20g per glass.

You can estimate how many units you are drinking if you multiply the ABV
figure by the size of your drink: a can of beer is 33cl, at four per cent ABV.
Therefore: 33 x 4 = 132; divide by 100 = 1.32 units... equals 10.56g

For wine: 75cl/4 = 18.75cl per glass; multiply by 13 ABV = 243.75; divide by 100 = 2.4 units... equals 19.2g.

Undergrad boozing faces tighter controls

HIGHER education minister Valérie Pécresse has declared war on undergraduate drinking sessions that are said to have ended up in rapes, drownings, suicides and car accidents.

She attacked what has been called a “degrading” culture of excessive drinking at student welcome weekends and wants such parties to be notified to the authorities so they can be controlled in the same way as any public gathering.

Last year, a student was allegedly raped during an “integration weekend” in Grenoble; in December, another was electrocuted on the Paris Métro.

Making a declaration at the mairie or prefecture is one of three key measures contained in a report into the problem by the head of Poitiers education authority, Martine Daoust, that Ms Pécresse wants introduced by September.

A second measure would be the introduction of checks throughout the events so it was clear that laws banning free bars and requiring essential safety measures were being observed.

Thirdly, there would be official guidelines sent to organisers and the owners of the establishments being used so that they knew what preventive action to take to stop problems.

Ms Daoust, an expert on alcohol and drug dependence, carried out a series of interviews in universities for the report and said it was time to “break the code of silence” surrounding a “degrading” culture of excessive drinking. “Some student parties are no-go areas,” she said.

Ms Pécresse commissioned the report after an increasing number of newspaper reports on the aftermath of the student drinking bouts. She said organisers should face the same controls as the organisers of rave parties or last year’s spate of apéros geants.

Organisers would have to give their name, the event’s location and details of the measures taken to ensure security and cut alcohol abuse. Ms Pécresse also wants to ensure drinks that companies do not break the law banning them giving away free alcohol.

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