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Why are wine drinkers healthier?

Posted by Richard on January 29, 2006

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: correlation doesn’t imply causation. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy. You ought to take epidemiological studies with a grain of salt (but not too much, it may raise your blood pressure; or maybe not).

For years, studies have shown health benefits associated with wine consumption — in particular, lower rates of heart disease. Scientists have studied what in wine confers these benefits, have identified potent anti-oxidants and polyphenols, and have researched the metabolic mechanisms by which these substances conferred their benefits.

There may be some truth in what they found. But then again, maybe not so much. At least in Denmark, there may be a simpler explanation:

COPENHAGEN, Jan. 20 – The lower death rate among wine drinkers compared with those who quaff beer may be due in part to healthier diets among the devotees of the grape.

That’s the opinion of researchers here, who surveyed the checkout items of Danish shoppers and found that people who bought wine as their only form of alcohol also tended to buy fruits, vegetables, and low-fat meats and cheeses.

In contrast, beer drinkers tended to go for prepared dishes, sugar, cold cuts, chips, pork, butter or margarine, sausages, lamb, and soft drinks, reported Morten Grønbæk, M.D., Ph.D. and colleagues of the Danish National Institute of Public Health, in a study published online by BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal.

The results suggest that lifestyle choices and other factors may be more important than alcohol type in determining mortality risk, the authors wrote.

Correlation does not imply causation. Wine may not make you healthier, it may just be associated with things that do.

On the other hand, maybe drinking wine causes you to prefer fruits, vegetables, and low-fat meats and cheeses. Or maybe eating cold cuts, chips, pork, butter, etc., causes you to crave beer.

These health issues are never simple. Worrying about them is driving me to drink.

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