Sláinte! Does a glass of wine a day keep the doctor away?

Thomas Vinterberg’s Dutch film Another Round or Druk won the Oscar for international feature in 2021. The film revolves around 4 teachers who – over a birthday dinner – discuss a theory proposed by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud that humans must consume low doses of alcohol to compensate for a natural deficiency and realise their full creative potential.

The friends decide to test the theory and begin an experiment where they consume alcohol at regular intervals to maintain a steady 0.05% alcohol level in their blood. Each teacher finds his own way of sneaking alcohol into the school, be that the PE teacher diluting vodka in his water bottle or the History teacher hiding whiskey in his thermos.

The teachers begin proving Skårderud right, finding benefits to both their work and private lives. They become more creative teachers and lower their inhibitions in the classroom, thus earning their student’s respect. While slightly intoxicated, they find it easier to connect and communicate with their students and improve their personal relationships with their respective partners.

To avoid spoiling the film, let’s pause there to delve into Skårderud’s idea.

Could a small amount of intoxication be beneficial, or is alcohol – as others have claimed –  truly the most dangerous drug to ever exist?

There is no clear answer to this question as some studies suggest that some alcohols, like red wine, contain compounds that show beneficial effects on individual’s health, however, all alcohols carry the risk of dependency. Let’s dig deeper.

Alcohol undoubtedly has physiological effects on our bodies, and  it’s suggested that a glass of wine a day has health benefits. Indeed, scientific research suggests that moderate consumption of wine results in a reduced risk of heart diseases and ageing. Claims have gone as far as stating that daily low to moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of heart attack in comparison to alcohol abstinence or overconsumption. 

The reported health benefits of red wine can be attributed to its high number of healthy antioxidants.

Antioxidants are substances that protect our cells from damage by free radicals that our bodies come in contact with constantly, especially during sunlight exposure. Cell damage is a key driver of ageing, therefore antioxidants, through slowing down cell damage, can in turn slow down ageing. 

Red wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol (found in the skin and seeds of grapes) which neutralises oxygen and nitrogen free radicals whilst also crossing the blood brain barrier to protect nerve and brain cells. Specifically, it can slow down the decline in cognition associated with ageing by preventing neural cell damage.

In an experiment, giving resveratrol  to healthy adult volunteers increased blood flow in the brain during the performance of a task. However, no improvement in their cognitive abilities was reported.

Further studies show a positive correlation between wine consumption and improved health. For example, a study on 39 healthy, non-smoking volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40 asked participants to drink 0.2L of red wine each day for 3 weeks. After this time, participants showed a decrease in red blood cell aggregation in the group drinking red wine, compared with a control group (when red blood cells aggregate they block arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart attack).

Moreover, daily moderate wine consumption has been a common factor in French and Mediterranean cultures which show a decreased incidence of cardiovascular diseases. 

In addition, red wine has been observed to alter the gut microbiome, making it a potential way of managing obesity.

Moderate consumption of red wine has been associated with promoting beneficial gut bacteria that aid human health and protect us against diseases. This is because red wine contains polyphenols which promote the growth of these beneficial bacteria contained in the gut microbiome, resulting in an increased amount of Bifidobacterium and Prevotella which lead to the decrease of  lipopolysaccharides, associated with obesity.

However, it is important to also note that wine is also high in calories, which may counteract this effect.

These benefits may be overshadowed by the immense risks that have been associated with alcohol consumption.

Alcohol holds first place on the list of dangerous drugs for factors such as highest rate of dependence, likelihood of dying, mental function damage and most likely to lead to criminal activity and physical injury. The negative effects increase with the quantity of alcohol consumed and depend on the genetic tolerances and body compositions of an individual.

Generally, increasing blood alcohol concentration up to 0.1% will turn most people into happy drunks, 0.25-0.30% would typically make someone a confused and drowsy drunk and higher amounts could result in irreversible adverse effects such as coma or death. 

Heavy alcohol consumption also increases the risk of cancer. Alcohol consumption has been directly linked to cancer in the oral cavity, oesophagus, and liver amongst other tissues. Specifically, acetaldehyde, the chemical resulting from alcohol breakdown in the liver, is carcinogenic and particularly dangerous for the development of cancer in the upper digestive tract. 

In addition, a dose dependent relationship between alcohol consumption and hypertension exists and it is suggested that irregular events of high alcohol consumption can undo any protective effect caused by light drinking.

A review published in the National Library of Medicine in 2010 found that individuals who moderately consumed up to 60g of alcohol a day nullified any protective benefits of alcohol consumption when they consumed above 5 alcoholic beverages (>60g of alcohol) on as little as one occasion per month.

On balance, alcohol has a nuanced influence on health.

The evidence suggests that light to moderate drinkers are at a lower risk of developing heart disease, while higher levels of alcohol consumption have adverse physical and psychological effects both on the consumer and wider society.

Overall, the conclusion is predictable – if you are teetotal it probably isn’t worth starting a drink habit for the sake of health, and if you do drink alcohol then do so in moderation.

As for teachers drinking in school? I’ll let you watch the film and make up your own mind on that.

Natasha Kisseroudis (she/her) is a third year Biotechnology student at the University of Edinburgh.

2 thoughts on “Sláinte! Does a glass of wine a day keep the doctor away?

  1. Administrasi Bisnis

    Friends decided to test the theory and start an experiment with regular alcohol consumption.,

  2. Biomedis

    Is there a drinking measure for one day?

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