When I first began writing about wine back in 2004, I made it a point to share news stories about the health impacts of wine when I ran into them. After a few years, however, I gave up, mostly because there was simply an endless stream of articles touting the latest research on how wine was good for you.
Yes, just like everyone, I noted the frenzy of interest in resveratrol (as well as the reality that you’d have to drink dozens of liters of wine per day to get enough of the compound to matter). By and large, however, I decided to stop posting health news about wine simply because there was just too much of it. Now I merely link to an occasional story in my weekly news roundups.
Then, about 7 or 8 years ago, things started to change, and a lot more research began to emerge suggesting that wine (and alcohol in general) were definitely not good for you at all. Many such stories indicated that scientists were going back to look at all those old health studies about wine and finding significant flaws in their methodology, thus invalidating their results.
This wave of negative news has recently become something of the inverse of what I experienced early in this blog’s history. Now nearly everything I read suggests that not only is moderate drinking not good for you, any amount of alcohol is bad for you.
Not being a scientist myself, it’s hard to know exactly where we all stand with this. As a rational, and (I like to think) reasonably intelligent person, I haven’t let myself believe this new extreme of negativity any more than I could bring myself to tout the idea of drinking red wine for resveratrol’s sake.
All of which was why I was so wonderfully relieved and pleased to read economist Emily Oster’s near-perfect treatise on the subject in the Atlantic, entitled “Is a Glass of Wine Harmless? Wrong Question.”
You go read it and tell me if you aren’t yelling “YES!” in acclamation by the end of it.
Her point, to put it simply, is that glasses of wine are not the health equivalent of what I can remember once being told about cigarettes, which each supposedly subtract a few minutes from your lifespan.
While wine (and any alcohol for that matter) consumption may in fact, be correlated with adverse health outcomes in the long run, no one has done the work to measure the impacts of its well-known positive outcomes. And given that the correlation between merely moderate drinking and all the nasties we hope to avoid (cancer, heart disease, etc.) is quite small and far from rock-solid-definitive, rationality requires us to acknowledge that, in Oster’s words:
We cannot conclusively prove that moderate alcohol consumption is totally benign, much less beneficial. Based on the data we have, it also seems extremely unlikely that moderate alcohol consumption is fully “bad” for your health.
Of course, this is what I dearly hope to be true. It’s what I want to believe is true. And therefore there are mountains of confirmation bias at work here, to be sure. But also, I would like to think, just a shred of garden-variety common sense.
Enjoy your wine. Not too much. A glass a day a few days a week, or split a bottle with a friend once or twice a week. I do my best to stick with this approach personally and don’t spend much time worrying about the impact on my health. And after reading Oster’s piece, I’m going to worry even less.
Illustrations created by me in collaboration with MidJourney AI.