Is a bottle of wine a day too much?
If you find yourself drinking a bottle of wine a day, you’re not alone. I personally know of many men and women who have admitted they do this. Typically, when they share this information with me, they conclude it with a question: Is that bad? Or, does that make me an alcoholic? Both of these are loaded questions that aren’t easily answered, and sadly, are often cloaked in guilt and shame.
This is too bad, because for so many years we were told that wine is good for our health! So, we indulged guilt-free and built our dinners and social gatherings around this beloved drink. If you’re among the cohort who drink a bottle of wine a day, you are in the company of many and you have nothing to be ashamed of. But is drinking a bottle of wine a day bad for your health? That’s worth considering. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to determine if this is a habit worth breaking.
Wine is good for your health! Isn’t it?
We have all been told over the years that wine is good for you! No wonder so many of us learned to indulge without a worry in the world. We start with one glass of wine a day, and years later, it's up to a bottle of wine every day. Imagine if the media shared the latest research that indicated eating M&Ms for breakfast offered protection from the seasonal flu. The chocolate treats would be in every breakfast bowl across the planet. It’s the perfect combination – a delicious chocolate treat that keeps you healthy all winter long. In fact, why not eat it with lunch and dinner, too? Not gonna lie, I’d be on board.
No wonder, then, that wine has become a beloved supplement to our stressed lives. Who wants to argue with the idea that something so enjoyable is actually good for us? Sipping a glass of Bordeaux lends a luxurious and sensual experience that relaxes us and lubricates our social persona with absolutely zero effort. One glass, two glasses, three glasses. Gosh, it’s so easy to keep drinking when it feels so good. And, we’ve been told that this wondrous beverage is simultaneously protecting our hearts from disease and warding off other illnesses as well. With all these signals flowing through our mind and body, is it any surprise that so many of us drink copious amounts of wine?
Then there’s the joy that comes with selecting the perfect bottle of wine. No doubt the dopamine spikes for anyone perusing the liquor store shelves where beautiful labels adorn various wines. It’s fun to learn the differences between them all: their regions, attributes, food pairings. Selecting a bottle of wine is an art. Add all this up and it’s clear that the wine experience is tremendously fulfilling. Now that wine is sold in grocery stores in so many cities, picking a bottle of wine every evening is that much easier to do.
On the other hand, this habit is also wrapped in shame and guilt. Wine, after all, is like every other alcoholic beverage. It can be addictive and it induces the most despised of all drinking experiences – the hangover. No wonder so many people are confused about the role of wine in their lives. Is it ok to drink a glass of wine every day, a bottle of wine every night? What's too much? What's considered acceptable?
The health benefits of wine
Past studies have long indicated the protective benefits of wine. Red wine, in particular. Its antioxidants have been said to help prevent coronary artery disease, which leads to heart attacks. These antioxidants are called polyphenols which may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. A substance called resveratrol has also been touted for preventing damage to blood vessels, reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and preventing blood clots. However, the studies are mixed with some indications that resveratrol does not prevent heart disease. All studies, however, clearly explain that moderate consumption is key to experiencing these health benefits. (We will get to what measures as moderate soon.)
Despite the focus on wine in these research studies, they have not provided any clear evidence that beer, white wine or liquor aren’t any better or worse than red wine for heart health. Moderate amounts of all types of alcohol have shown to benefit the heart.
The latest, and most comprehensive, study ever completed on the effects of alcohol on human health was completed in 2016, called “Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016”. Its results were published in The Lancet in 2018 with great fanfare. Media outlets across the globe shared its research and, generally, shocked the millions of imbibers with its conclusion that no amount of alcohol is good for human health.
The report’s specific wording is: “The level of alcohol consumption that minimised harm across health outcomes was zero standard drinks per week.”
What?!?! This was mind blowing to so many of us. What about all those benefits of wine that past studies discovered? It seemed too outrageous to believe this one study was right and all the others were wrong.
In fact, the 2016 study does not refute the protective benefits of alcohol. It admits that past research suggesting that low levels of alcohol consumption offer a protective effect on heart disease, diabetes and other outcomes remains an open question. This study also was not done in isolation of previous research. Its aim was to build upon pre-existing work and to address limitations found in past work by improving the estimates of alcohol use and its associated health burden.
The study discovered, however, that any protective effects of alcohol were offset by the greater risks associated with cancers, which increased with daily consumption. It mentions, in particular, that some protective effects for heart disease and diabetes was found among women. However these effects were also offset when overall risks were considered, “especially because of the strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and communicable disease.”
How much wine is too much?
It’s clear the ideal amount of wine to drink is zero, based on the latest research, which is why the study advises anyone who abstains from alcohol, continue to do so. But what about the millions of people who enjoy wine too much to give it up?
Canada’s low risk drinking guidelines are similar to those provided in most countries:
Women should drink zero to two drinks per day, up to 10 drinks per week.
Men should drink zero to three drinks per day, up to 15 drinks per week.
These guidelines were developed in 2011 by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and were the first country-wide guidelines on alcohol.
Note, the UK has updated its recommendation to 14 units per week for both men and women.
What is a standard drink of alcohol?
One standard drink, also referred to as a “unit,” is a measure of pure ethanol (or alcohol). The 2016 study considered a standard drink to equal 10 grams of ethanol. This can be hard to determine when you’re pouring yourself a glass of wine, or having one served at a restaurant, many of which serve wine in very large glasses -- a sort of supersize for wine drinkers. (McWineglass?)
One large wine glass holds 250ml, which is equal to one-third of a bottle. This means one glass could hold three servings of alcohol (30 grams). To stick to a single serving of alcohol, you should drink wine in a small wine glass that holds about 125ml (does anyone use those small wine glasses anymore?) Also, keep in mind the alcohol content varies among wines. You do the math... kinda hard to stick to the limit, huh?
If you’re drinking a bottle of wine a night, you’re serving yourself approximately nine standard drinks out of the (Canadian standard) recommended dose of 15 drinks per week. If you’re drinking a bottle of wine every day, that equals 63 standard drinks per week. Some drink for thought there, eh?
Do I have to give up wine?
This is the question that only you can answer. If you’re drinking a bottle of wine a night, then the research clearly indicates the negative impact this has on your health. So, from a health perspective, yes you should give up wine. However, if you can moderate your drinking to a maximum of two glasses of wine per night, then you may be able to lower that risk. But don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t cut back. It’s a hard thing to do given all the information we’ve processed up to now about wine. It’s no wonder so many of us struggle with our wine habits after having believed for so long that it’s good for us. That has made it even easier for wineries to market their goods and for us to enjoy imbibing at every social occasion. In many ways, we’ve been programmed to drink wine. And, lots of it. Changing those thought processes is no easy feat.
The latest research has proven that the best choice is to abstain completely since there are no clear health benefits to drinking wine. And, if you’ve never drank alcohol before – certainly don’t start now.
I used to drink wine almost every night with periodic binging on weekends. Although I wanted very badly to moderate my drinking for many years, after one failed attempt to another, I discovered I simply couldn’t. For me, the only choice was complete sobriety. Given the addictive nature of alcohol, I personally believe full abstinence is the only path for anyone who has developed a wine drinking habit. But everyone is different and each of us needs to come to our own conclusions regarding our lifestyle choices.
For me, the choice was hard but well worth the results. I haven’t had a drink since December 2018. It has been one of the best decisions of my life.