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With these preliminary distinctions in mind, let us give a little historical overview of the research over the last twenty years, concerning the connection between wine and health.
Much of the significant research in wine has been based upon epidemiological studies. These are studies that are based upon the analysis of data generated from everyday life rather than studies that set up artificial situations. In this case scientists analyzed and linked consumption and health patterns of men and women. It is non-intrusive and usually includes entire populations rather than volunteers, which tend to be self-selective.
In a 1979 landmark summary of studies of this type, it was discovered from looking at the statistics of 300,000 men and women, aged 55 to 64 years, in 13 studies spread over 18 countries, that those who had a moderate consumption of alcohol, i.e. 1 to 2 drinks per day, had a rate of heart disease that was 30% to 40% lower than those who drank no alcohol.
This was attributed to ethanol, a common component of alcohol. In subsequent studies it was found that ethanol thins the blood and increases the good cholesterol, which reduces blood clotting. At this point it was obvious that a few drinks per day of any kind of alcohol reduced the chance of heart disease.
Unfortunately while decreasing the chances of a heart attack the consumption of alcohol raised the chance of getting cancer. For instance in one study it was demonstrated that American women under the age of 45 who had 2 drinks per day had a rate of breast cancer which was two and half times higher than those who didnŐt drink. Also in Italy over 30,000 die per year from alcohol related diseases including cirrhosis of the liver, a type of cancer. Overall the increased rates of cancer for drinkers more than balanced the protection from heart disease. Indeed drinkers had a lower life expectancy than non-drinkers. Although non-drinkers tended to die of heart attacks more frequently than drinkers, drinkers tended to die at a higher rate from cancer. At this point the non-drinkers were ahead by a little but drinking habits changed little.
With all this negative publicity surrounding the consumption of alcohol and health the French government in 1999 classified alcohol as a hard drug. While this classification was rescinded due to protests by restaurant and wine people it reflected an increasingly negative attitude towards the consumption of alcoholic beverages by the public.