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Mother of All Studies on Wine and Health to Start

Posted: Monday, 10 July 2017 11:00


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Mother of All Studies on Wine and Health to Start

July 10: Hundreds of studies have shown wine drinking in moderation to be healthy, even though a few should be taken with a pinch of salt due to the antecedents of the researchers or the source of grants with an increasing number thriving on contrarian views and conclusions, thus prompting the National Institutes of Health in the USA to soon spend $100 million for scientific clinical trials across 16 countries, but doubts are already being raised about the efficacy as the majority of funding is pledged by alcobev producers

Starting with the program 90 minutes in November, 1991 where a revelation was made on TV by the late Dr. Serge Renaud, a French Medical Researcher and Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, Director, Institute of Lifestyle and Health, Boston University that wine was beneficial for heart, scores of Research project were initiated to study the relationship of health benefits of wine. Most concluded that drinking wine in moderation was good for heart and health but always with a rider that more studies needed to be done; so much so that delWine has been questioning the merits of some of these studies since the source of grants and funding is usually not declared universally and many of them reek of lobby interests.

However, in recent years there have also been Studies inferring that even the first sip of wine is  harmful because of alcohol which causes damage to body.

Strange Case of Dipak Das

Lure of research funds from sources with loose purse strings or vested interests have for long, drawn universities and professors to even falsify the data occasionally to show positive results in order to get more grants, with a spiralling effect.  The case of an Indian-born Prof. Dr. Dipak K. Das, director of the cardiovascular research center at the University of Connecticut (UConn) is a disturbing example.

Dr. Das conducted several Studies and published results in hundreds of papers based on Research on the benefits of resveratrol and received various grants. When the university officials were tipped off and conducted an internal review into the work of Dr. Das who had been known a decade ago for his research on the benefits of resveratrol, they discovered that there were at least 145 cases of fabricated or false data. The university had to decline $890,000 in research grants and cut off external funding to the lab under his control.

They were obliged to notify 11 journals after a 3 year of investigations and conducting an extensive research misconduct investigation.

Dr. Das was dismissed in 2012. In January 2013 he announced his intention to file a $35 million defamation lawsuit against UConn.. However, he died on September 19, 2013 before the case went to court. The 486th edition of delWine had reported  the incidence.

Mother of all Studies

Critics of both sides of the studies have stressed that the studies are not scientific. With intent to give finality to the ongoing debate, National Institutes of Health in the USA is starting a $100 million clinical trial on international subjects to test for the first time whether a drink a day really does prevent heart attacks. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will oversee the study.

According to New York Times the Study will recruit nearly 8,000 volunteers age 50 or older at 16 sites around the world, starting at medical centers in the United States, Europe, Africa and South America. Participants will be randomly assigned to quit alcohol altogether or to drink a single alcoholic beverage of their choice every day. The trial will follow them for six years to see which group- the moderate drinkers or the abstainers has more heart attacks, strokes and deaths. The study organizers conceded that it would be a challenge to recruit volunteers, who will not know in advance whether they will be assigned to abstain or be required to drink. Participants will be partly reimbursed for the cost of the alcohol.

Alcobev manufacturers are major contributors

However, the list of contributors for the projects has raised eyebrows. Five of the world’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg,  have so far pledged  a reported sum of $67.7 million to the foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health.

Prof. Marion Nestle, an author and professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University says, “Research shows that industry-sponsored research almost invariably favours the interests of the industry sponsor, even when investigators believe they are immune from such influence.

Countering him is George F. Koob, Director of the alcohol institute, who says the trial will be immune from industry influence and will be an unbiased test of whether alcohol in moderation protects against heart disease.“This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” Dr. Koob said, adding that “the money from the Foundation for the N.I.H. has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever--no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.”

Conflict of interest

However, the News Report lists the people in the Study who have benefited directly or indirectly from the grants by industry, except the principal investigator of the new study, Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal. The Harvard associate professor of medicine and a visiting scientist at the school of public health claims he has never received funding from the industry. He also said he was not aware that alcohol companies were supporting the trial financially. The benefactor companies have also denied that they would influence the Study in any way but are supporting for the excellent and relevant cause.

Limitations of Study

The study has several limitations. Adverse events related to alcohol, including car accidents, major falls, heart conditions etc. will be tracked, but it is not large enough or long enough to detect an increase in breast cancer. Dr. Mukamal said the trial most likely would not be able to detect gender differences unless they are pronounced. This lack of focus on gender differences related to alcohol consumption has already drawn criticism.

Art Caplan, the director of medical ethics at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine, said the role of the industry should be disclosed when the results eventually are disseminated to the public. “People will react differently if it says the study is sponsored by N.I.H or sponsored by Anheuser-Busch,” he said. Any findings supporting the benefits of alcohol could easily be misinterpreted too.

No matter which way the results show in the $100 million Study, the experts and critics are already sharpening their knives and the Mother of all Studies might become just one of the hundreds such studies though more reliable and perhaps the most expensive study till date.

For a related earlier Article, click Blog: Reading too much into Wine Benefits

Subhash Arora

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