Red Wine Could Be a Lot Worse for You Than We Previously Thought

New guidelines put forth by the UK Chief Medical Officer’s call for a significant reduction to existing alcohol consumption guidelines and aim for a total revamp of the nation’s relationship with alcohol.
January 8, 2016, 8:00pm
Photo via Flickr user MrTinDC

It's not easy being a drinker.

One day you're told that alcohol can enhance sexual performance and make you more sexually attractive, only to be warned the next that it's at the root of pretty much every bad hook-up decision, and fuelling the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.

Then you're told that booze can slow down the ageing process, lower the risk of heart attack, and make people generally happier. So alcohol, at least in moderate amounts, is good for you, right?

Wrong. New guidelines put forth by the UK Chief Medical Officer's call for a significant reduction to existing alcohol consumption guidelines and aim for a total revamp of the nation's relationship with alcohol.

READ: White Wine Is Just as Good for You as Red

"What we are aiming to do with these guidelines is give the public the latest and most up to date scientific information so that they can make informed decisions about their own drinking and the level of risk they are prepared to take," Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, said in a press statement. And part of that renewed scientific approach means challenging long-held beliefs about booze.

That means men should be reducing their intake to 14 units of alcohol each week, which equates to about six pints, the same level as for women. While six pints can be the average consumption during a good lunch in some British pubs, it is a pretty significant reduction from the 21 units for men found in previous guidelines.

The previous recommended drinking quantities, which were instituted in 1995, also suggested that it was not healthy for women to drink as much as men, but that myth has also been debunked by research the Committee on Carcinogenicity (COC).

By extension, the COC is arguing that Brits who follow the new guidelines would be at significantly lower risk of illnesses like liver disease and cancer.

But what about the much-touted health benefits of red wine? The grape-y booze has repeatedly been shown to burn fat, slow your inevitable mental decay, and actually help your liver cells.

Surely the red wine is different from all of the other swill. Surely when the joys of PBR and tequila begin to wear thin, the borderline (or full-blown) alcoholic can turn to red wine in order to deflect scrutiny and give off an air of health and sophistication.

Wrong again. One of the most surprising assertions made in the new report is that basically all booze is the same, at least from a medical standpoint. In other words, the 14 units of alcohol recommended each week means only six small glasses of red wine per week, which means even the moderate drinker should have an "off" day during the week.

By extension, the COC research means that drinking more than one glass of wine per day would increase the likelihood of developing cancer, according to the health experts consulted.

"This new guidance has been based on a wide range of new evidence from this country and overseas," Professor Mark Petticrew, Professor of Public Health Evaluation at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said of the underlying research.

Petticrew also defended the new maximums on the basis that they are backed by hard science. "We have reviewed all the evidence thoroughly and our guidance is firmly based on the science, but we also considered what is likely to be acceptable as a low risk level of drinking and the need to have a clear message."

Making sense of this data and supposedly debunked myths is a lot to take in right now. We need a drink. Just one.