Original post: 12th of November, 2013
Each day when we get to work and click onto the online newspapers to see what has happened over the past 12 or so hours (probably less for most of you with smart-phones), we are greeted with the usual articles and most often than not, we see yet another article about research into something or other that will give you cancer or something like this that is very melodramatic. Yes, yes, if we don't stop eating everything right now you are going to die a horrible death as confirmed by top Scientist XYZ from University XYZ. The problem that I always find is that by the next week, another Scientist has the latest ground breaking research which suggests completely the opposite to what was previously said.
So, when I read that Scientists were feeding champagne to rats, I thought they had gone completely loopy and lost the plot (further, it was also all a terrible waste of perfectly good champagne). Professor Jeremy Spencer from the University of Reading defended this terrible waste of precious golden liquid by stating it was in the name of science, and that the rats showed "significant improvement in memory and cognitive function". Maybe there was method to this madness after all (still, the champagne).
To give a little background first, generally speaking most studies focus on red wines and its benefits through the consumption of flavonoids for example, which potentially provide positive effects on brain function, cardiovascular health, and improving permeability of vascular capillaries. Further studies have also looked at the benefits of flavonoids from an antioxidant perspective and potential anti-cancer properties, however all the research I could find indicated the benefits were negligible, inconclusive, and even the opposite of helpful in some cases.
It is worth stating that many studies have focused on red wine health related benefits, which some point to flavonoids or other similar compounds. However, there have been no substantive conclusions on the health benefits of flavonoids with both the US based Federal Drug Administration ("FDA") and the European Food Safety Authority ("EFSA") not providing any approvals to the health benefits relating to flavonoids. Further, the general consensus of many studies appears to be that 'while some clinical studies have suggested flavonoids have a role in cancer prevention, others have been inconclusive or suggested they may be harmful'.
Now, coming back to the benefits of feeding champagne to rats, Professor Spencer from the University of Reading identifies that champagne is rich in smaller phenolic compounds (similar to alcohols, you can read the definition here) contributed by the red grapes used in its production (e.g.: pinot noir and pinot meunier). Professor Spencer demonstrated in his study that the champagne helped increase blood flow and hence the distribution of these phenolic compounds around the body which aided the rats' memory. Amounts consumed by the rats were the equivalent of 2-3 glasses per week (in case you were heading to pub right now to improve your memory).
To provide a little diversity to our group of studies, another focused on alcohol consumption and the longevity of its participants (humans this time) to discover if alcohol actually helped improve your lifespan. The study from the University of NSW (faculty of medicine) studied residents from Dubbo born before 1930 and their alcohol consumption. It has concluded that 'moderate drinking was clearly linked with longer survival' with 'low and moderate drinkers overall had a 25 per cent lower risk of death'.
Another study by Professor Curtis Ellison from the medical faculty at Boston University concluded something similar suggesting that 'as you get older, alcohol helps protect against many diseases of ageing, he says, listing coronary heart disease, stroke, dementia, osteoporosis and hip fractures, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, even obesity (a drink a day helps you hold or even lose weight), and total mortality'. Professor Ellison points to the benefits being associated with how you consume alcohol, with ideally the method of slow consumption of alcohol which coincides with when you're eating meals showing the greatest benefits (referred to as the 'French Paradox').
At this point, you'd be ready to take up drinking if you don't already. However, I decided to get a bit technical and following a Google Scholar search found a study that looked at the benefits of flavonoids (to come back to our red wine friends or foes depending on which article you like). The study controlled for 'age, body-mass index, smoking, serum total and high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure, physical activity, coffee consumption, and intake of energy, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and dietary fibre'. Oh dear, it's just a little more complicated than just concluding that drinking is good for you. Still, willing to read on, the research concluded that 'flavonoids in regularly consumed foods may reduce the risk of death from coronary heart disease in elderly men'.
So with everything concluding all differently and most studies being inconclusive nor 100% on the plus or negative side, you may be forgiven for throwing your hands up in frustration at whether you should read another research article. Besides it is probably going to tell you that something is good or bad for you and you should start / stop eating / drinking 'that something' before you implode!
My advice is to just enjoy a drink or two and not worry too much about what the next article says. After-all, life is too short to waste champagne on rats...