In a case of opinions in the rear-view mirror appearing larger than the mountain of evidence right in front of them, the Australian Heart Foundation recently released a position paper announcing that there are no health benefits to wine or dark chocolate. According to a spokesperson, the AHF is ”concerned about people thinking that in having red wine or dark chocolate that they are actually doing something to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease when the evidence doesn’t support that.” The recommendation is based on a review of more than 100 studies over the past 10 years, and supposedly “puts to rest the popular belief that red wine, coffee and chocolate can keep cardiovascular problems at bay.”
They couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. The thing is, there are more than 3,000 articles over the past 30 years or so on the subject, and I have looked at most of them for my book “Age Gets Better with Wine.” It is true that most of these are not clinical trials per se, and it would be nice to have more of these, but the patterns are consistent: wine and chocolate have a range of distinct benefits in countering heart disease and many other conditions. The focus of the article was on the antioxidants in wine and chocolate, which is too narrow of a view in my opinion. Supplements of antioxidant from wine or vitamins are indeed without evidence of their usefulness, but wine and dark chocolate work in other more specific ways. Dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the inflammatory processes that contribute to cardiovascular disease, and wine works in its own numerous and potent ways.
I am reminded of what happened when the data on alcohol consumption and heart disease was first analyzed from the Framingham Heart Study, the granddaddy of all such studies. In reviewing the 25-year data back in the 1970’s, a clear relationship between moderate drinking and lowered risk of heart disease was found. But the study sponsors at the U.S. National Institutes of Health issued a written directive to the authors of the study that it was to state that there was “no significant relationship of alcohol intake to the incidence of coronary heart disease,” citing concerns that it would be “socially undesirable.” Better to quote R. Curtis Ellison, MD, Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University: “…only stopping smoking would have a larger beneficial effect on heart disease than for a nondrinker to begin having a drink or two each day.”