I was shocked when a French friend living in India told me about 25 years ago when I started promoting wine in India that wine was the way of life in France and his friends would drink wine with other friends several times in a day, starting in the morning. That was when the term French Paradox had been just coined in 1991 on a TV program ’60 Minutes’ where the French Scientist late Dr. Serge Renaud and Dr. R. Curtis Ellison had averred that the Mediterranean diet with regular consumption of wine in moderation resulted in better heart and longer life or the French which is considered Mecca of wine drinking culture in the world.
But periodically, there have been uproars about the harmful effect of wine from politicians and health agencies aimed at over-drinking. It was not surprising that once again the French Health Agency denigrated excess consumption of wine and set out following benchmarks in a Report on Tuesday this week urging adults over 18 years of age to follow:
- Drink no more than two glasses of wine or other alcoholic beverages per day
- Drink no more than 10 glasses per week
- Make sure to leave "days in the week without consumption."
Alcohol kills more than 41,000 people in France per year, reportedly according to the health agency Santé Publique France. About a quarter of French people of18 to 75 years exceed one the three benchmarks. The agency warned that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to diseases like hypertension and cancer. The problem is more widespread among men than women, with 33 % men exceeding one of the benchmarks but only 14 % women, according to 2017 health data.
“It’s about 10.5 million adults who drink too much. In any case they drink in proportions that increase the risks to their health, including cancers, high blood pressure, cerebral haemorrhage and cardiovascular diseases,” said Viet Nguyen-Thanh, head of Santé Publique France. In its official guidance, it advises people to drink no more than 10 glasses of wine each week, the equivalent of 100ml a glass, totalling 1,000ml of wine a week.
Not surprisingly, French producers are crying foul. They say the politicians are missing the point. “We agree with the moderation aspect, but on the other hand, we always feel that they’re picking on wine,” said Maurin Bérenger, a well-respected producer of the rich dark Cahors wine, in southwest France. “Even limiting it, this is a constraint on liberty,” he said.
“The wine that we’re producing and that we champion, it’s to be consumed for pleasure, with moderation, and not to get drunk,” said Mr. Bérenger. He is one of thousands of wine producers in one of the bibles of French life, Le Guide Hachette des Vins, which tells you just about everything you need to know before you drink.
Even without the public health warning, the consumption has declined by about 50 % during the last 50 years, according to Vin et Société, a consortium of wine industry stakeholders. The old culture of the workman sidling up to the bar in the local cafe at 10 a.m. and ordering a small glass of red wine, or petit rouge, as my French friend had told me, is far less prevalent even if it exists at all.
There are those in the government who do not support this recommendation either. French President Emmanuel Macron admits to drinking wine daily during lunch and dinner. French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said wine is "not an alcohol like any other," earlier this year. “I have never seen a youngster leaving a nightclub drunk because he drank “Côtes-du-Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage or Costières-de-Nîmes," he says rightly.
Interestingly, Dr. Serge Renaud who died in 2012 and whom I had met on two occasions at a Medical Health Conference in Napa Valley and had long chats with him as I was fascinated by his Studies that even made me tilt more towards wine, was bitter about the French government and its policies related to wine. He used to tell me, "In our country, for the world of health, wine, is alcohol and abuse".
World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that the French are not the heaviest drinkers in Europe. They have an average annual consumption per person of 12.6 litres of alcohol, behind Lithuania’s 15 litres, Germany’s 13.4 litres, Ireland and Luxembourg’s 13 litres each and Latvia’s 12.9 litres. In the UK 11.5 litres are drunk per person annually, according to a Report in dB.
Incidentally, a new Study claims that drinking a bottle of wine a week has the same lifetime cancer risk for women as smoking 10 cigarettes a day. Men are slightly less affected-one bottle increases their risk by five cigarettes. The study avers that the higher risk for women is tied to their increased risk of alcohol-related breast cancer.
They found that one bottle of wine per week was associated with an increased absolute lifetime cancer risk for non-smokers of 1 percent for males and 1.4 percent for females. If the quantity of wine is upped to three bottles per week the risk of cancer jumps to 1.9 percent (men) and 3.6 percent (women).
"We must be absolutely clear that this study is not saying that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking. Our findings relate to lifetime risk across the population," she added.
Glass and Alcohol ABV not defined
The benchmark apparently does not define the size of the glass or the level of alcohol. Our presumption is that the standard glass is 125 mL (6 glasses to a bottle) while the international norm has become 150 mL (5 glasses to a bottle) with UK even going to 250 mL in a glass. This means an additional alcohol of 20%.
Similarly, the alcohol levels have been going up due to global warming- whereas it used to be 12.5% to 13% ABV 20-30 years ago, today 14.5% is not uncommon in many warmer parts of the world. With an allowance of 0.5% for declaration on the bottle, it could be as high as 15% in the glass. Again, the increase from 12.5% to 15% means an increase of 20%!
Though having a negative impact on the volumes recommended to be consumed, these two factors must be consciously adjusted for.
One also needs to be warned against the viewpoint by many producers that the alcohol in wine is natural alcohol. This ought not to hold good- alcohol is alcohol, after all. It is beneficial for up to 2 glasses of wine but the J-curve in several studies has shown it is harmful if consumed more and the negative effect is exponential with more drinks.
For a few of earlier related articles, visit:
Wine-An Affair Of The Heart
Mother of All Wine & Health Studies Shot Dead by NIH
Mother of All Studies on Wine and Health to Start
delWine has been recommending for about 15 years that men should consume 2 glasses of wine every day, preferably with food to allow the beak down of alcohol before it gets into the kidneys and make the gastronomical experience more enjoyable while women should not drink more than a glass because of increased risk of breast cancer. According to Dr. Ellison who has been doing research in this area for over 30 years, they should also take folates regularly, thus bring down that risk to zero, with one glass a day.
It is heartening to note that the French health authorities recommend the same. Over the last few years we have also recommended to take a break for 2 days a week, effectively making it 10 glasses (of 125 mL and 13% alcohol wine to be adjusted according to the size of the glass and amount of alcohol -editor