Oh Those Naughty Scientists, Can’t They Just Let Us Enjoy Life!
Recent articles on a study of how cheese influences sensory assessment of wine have resulted in a flurry of comments on wine boards worldwide. And as I can’t resist the temptation to comment on some of them I will be devoting a future post to the subject. But right now I want to comment on another piece of research that is sure to generate its own share of inspired criticisms.
A study published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on January 20, 2006 has concluded that “Wine buyers made more purchases of healthy food items than people who buy beer.” Why is this important? Well a number of studies have shown differential effects of beer and wine consumption on morbidity and mortality. The resulting hypothesis suggested that components other than ethanol may be responsible. However studies have also found that wine drinkers have a healthier diet than beer or spirit drinkers. This suggests that variation in diet associated with the preferred drink may explain the beneficial effect of wine drinking on health. A complicating factor in many lifestyle studies is that self reporting may influence the study outcome. For example there may be under or over reporting depending upon how study subjects think their answers may be perceived. A group of Danish investigators has attempted to exclude self reporting by comparing the relationship between beer and/or wine purchases against food purchased at the same time. They examined some 3.5 million transactions chosen at random from 98 outlets of two large Danish supermarket chains over a six month period (September 2002 to February 2003). Their results?
“Wine buyers bought more olives, fruit and vegetables, poultry, cooking oil, and low fat cheese, milk, and meat than beer buyers. Beer buyers bought more ready cooked dishes, sugar, cold cuts, chips, pork, butter or margarine, sausages, lamb, and soft drinks than wine buyers.”
Sausages and lamb are favorites of beer drinkers! This has got to be a sham. I drink very little beer but I’ll eat lamb and sausages whenever I can. I’ll even eat lamb sausages. Of course that’s not what the study shows. It simply indicates that those who purchased beer (and presumably consumed it) are more likely to purchase certain food items. And as the investigators are quick to point out the results are by no means conclusive as there are a number of strengths and weaknesses in their study. What they have done is add a little more information to our understanding of what may explain the health effects of alcohol consumption.
The final paragraph of their paper, read from my point of view as a scientist, indicates just how much more work needs to be done before we can explain the health effects of wine. But I’ll bet there are a lot of beer drinkers out there who won’t see it that way.
“Possible explanation of the health benefits of drinking wine.
The additional beneficial effect of drinking wine, rather than other alcoholic drinks, on mortality and morbidity from coronary heart disease and certain cancers may be due to specific substances in wine or to different characteristics of people who drink other types of alcohol. Drinking habits - how much alcohol is ingested, whether alcohol is consumed with food, and which type of alcohol is consumed - probably depend on social and cultural factors, lifestyle, and diet. Wine tends to be drunk with meals, in modest amounts, which may have metabolic advantages; in contrast, spirits are often consumed at times other than mealtime. In Denmark wine drinkers have a higher level of education, higher income, better psychological functioning, and better subjective health than people who do not drink wine. Similar results have been found in a Californian population: people who prefer wine tend to be educated, healthy, lean, young or middle aged women with a moderate alcohol intake, whereas those who prefer beer tend to be less educated, healthy young men with a higher alcohol intake. Thus, the influence of type of alcoholic drink on mortality could be due to insufficient adjustment for lifestyle factors such as diet, drinking patterns, smoking, physical activity, education, or income.” Food buying habits of people who buy wine or beer: cross sectional Study. Ditte Johansen, Karina Friis, Erik Skovenborg, Morten Grønbæk BMJ, doi:10.1136/bmj.38694.568981.80 (published 20 January 2006).