Would you believe it? I found this report on a three-decade study of wine drinkers on Wine Spectator Online. The study itself was published in a respected peer-reviewed medical journal, the Journal of Gerontology. The results are the stuff wine-marketers (and wine lovers) dream about: Wine drinkers had a lower mortality rate compared to drinkers of other alcoholic beverages.
No, the study was not performed in California’s Napa Valley or in the Loire Valley in France. Rather, it was done in Finland (there’s wine in Finland?) by Timo Strandberg and colleagues, researchers at the University of Oulu. At the start of the study in 1974, 2,468 businessmen and male executives, ages 40-55, were assessed at the Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki for cardiovascular risk factors and alcoholic beverage preferences. Only 131 of these men did not use alcohol, 455 did not report a single beverage preference, and 694, 251, and 937 preferred beer, wine, and spirits, respectively.
The researchers tracked these men down for a re-assessment in 1985 and again in the year 2000. As you can imagine, some of these guys were a bit “long in the tooth” by the end of the study. Others had died or just dropped out (of the study). Study subjects were included in the final calculations only if they were constant in their preference for one type of alcohol (e.g., wine, beer, or spirits) over the others.
By the time of the second stage of the study in 1985, only 1,369 men were available to be reassessed. Some dropped out of the study, some changed alcohol habits and 93 of the men had died. By the time of the final calculations in 2002, there were 1,127 men left in the study who drank three or fewer drinks per day and had not changed their drinking preferences over the course of the study.
And the results are?
The men remained pretty constant in their choice of alcoholic beverage and there was not a significant difference in the amount they drank between the different beverage groups.
Men with wine preference had the lowest total mortality of the three groups due to lower cardiovascular mortality. Compared to the spirits drinkers, wine drinkers had a 34% lower total mortality. Beer drinkers had a 9% lower mortality than spirits imbibers. Should we break out a bottle of pinot to celebrate the good health of wine drinkers?
Best keep the cork in the bottle for now. There are some confounding variables. It turns out that wine drinkers had healthier habits than beer and spirits guzzlers. They exercised more and smoked less, both factors associated with better health and lower mortality. In other words, it may not have been the wine that led to a good long life, rather wine drinkers might be more health-conscious.
Here’s how Strandberg, the lead researcher, sums it up:
“Is it the drinker rather than drink characteristics, as healthier men preferred wine?”
It could also be that “spirit preferrers may lead a more dangerous life, with more risk factors, and all hidden aspects may not be culled in an epidemiologic study.” What he is pointing out, rightfully so, is that care has to be taken in interpreting the results of this type of study.
Oh well. It did sound too good to be completely true—kind of like reading that dark chocolate lowers blood pressure, but only if you don’t eat so much that you get weight-related hypertension.
Back to the fruits and veggies.