In the history of mankind, regular consumption of alcohol is directly related to cultivated agriculture, when 6,000 to 8,000 years ago people began to deliberately brew beer-like drinks from grain. People had already had individual experiences before that, but more or less by chance, for example when fruit began to ferment in the first primitive vessels and the alcoholic liquids that resulted were consumed. Very soon these were also used for soothing or healing purposes, because various positive effects were recognized by chance, but of course their cause could not be interpreted. This is testified in many ancient scriptures, including the Bible.
The Jewish Talmud says (Rabbi Banal): "Where there is a lack of wine, one needs medicine. In the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) wine played a role in almost all his medicines. He prescribed it, among other things, to cool down fever, as a diuretic, to strengthen convalescents, and as a painkiller and sedative. The Romans used the effectiveness of wine as an antibiotic, because during the conquests the soldiers received water mixed with wine (or vinegar). In some ancient cultures, drinking alcohol and even intoxication was also used as a means of communication. In the exuberant celebrations in honour of the wine god Dionysus in ancient Greece, intoxication was considered a purifying ceremony with psycho-hygienic effects (for practices and customs in this regard, see drinking culture).
The Greek philosopher Plutarch (45-125) said: "Among beverages, wine is the most useful, among medicines the tastiest and among food the most pleasant. The Greek doctor Galen (129-199) recognised the antiseptic effect of wine and the French scholar Arnaldus de Villanova (1240-1311) wrote a book about the healing power of wine. The famous mystic and alternative practitioner Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) used wine and vinegar against various diseases.
Many scholars praised the hygienic effect, including the French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). In medicine, wine was a universal antiseptic until the end of the 19th century, used to wash out wounds and make water potable. Especially in cities, water was a health hazard due to the lack of sewerage systems and contamination with faeces. Apart from wine, other products of the grapevine were also used as medicine or remedies, for example vine tears against skin diseases.
However, for good reasons, alcohol or alcoholic beverages must never be considered or referred to as a medicine or drug, despite all actual or supposed positive effects. In moderate amounts, alcohol can have a sedative, cramp- and tension-relieving, pain-relieving, but also disinhibiting effect on the central nervous system. It triggers a certain amount of well-being up to a certain level, but this quickly turns into the opposite when consumed in excessive amounts. There has always been great interest in researching the health effects of regular alcohol consumption on the human organism. A number of studies have therefore been carried out in the past. Despite all the differences in detail, there was and is a high degree of agreement regarding positive effects.
The content of the "good" blood fat HDL cholesterol is increased and the content of the "bad" LDL cholesterol is reduced. Certain substances prevent the thrombocytes (blood platelets) in the arteries from sticking together, thus reducing the risk of vascular congestion and arteriosclerosis. Phenols, such as those found in red wines in particular, are responsible for this. Storing in wooden barrels favours the formation of further phenols, which speaks in favour of barrique ageing, so to speak. The phenol compounds act quasi as "health police" or antioxidants. They bind "free radicals" (aggressive, malicious molecules) and render them harmless. Flavonoids (colouring agents), as well as glutathione, resveratrol and salicylic acid contribute particularly positively. Salicylic acid is also contained in aspirin and is recommended as a prevention of heart disease. Especially by moderate consumption of red wine heart and circulation diseases can apparently be prevented.
A study conducted by the University Hospital of Ulm in the German state of Baden-Württemberg has shown that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer can increase the level of adiponectin in the blood. The hormone is produced in the fat cells, but correlates inversely with body fat. This means that the more obese, the less adiponectin. Together with leptin, insulin and other hormones, it regulates sugar and fatty acid metabolism and the feeling of hunger. The effect of insulin on the fat cells is enhanced and anti-inflammatory effects on the blood vessels are produced. Low adiponectin levels are associated with an increased cardiovascular risk, while high levels are considered to be cardioprotective.
The German Wine Academy (DWA) provided information on the responsible use of wine as follows: Almost all scientific data available to date clearly indicate the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. This is especially true for cardiovascular diseases - the overwhelming burden of proof of hard scientific data leaves even the most sceptical person no other choice. This biological fact and the fact that cardiovascular diseases - primarily heart attacks - are the most common cause of death today, obliges us to point out the protective effect of moderate wine consumption. Always implying that the dangers of misuse are not concealed in the process, this is certainly legitimate.
In the 1980s, the "Organisation International du Vin" carried out a worldwide scientific study on the connection between wine consumption and the rate of lethal cardiovascular disease in men between 55 and 64 years of age. The study revealed that far fewer people die of heart disease in France than in other countries, although the level of fat or "healthier" food is far from being reduced. However, the French drink far more wine (especially red wine) than other nations. They are in the lead both in wine consumption and in life expectancy. The extremely health-conscious Americans are second only to Finland in the death rate.
Of course, there was also criticism of this study: what good is it to not suffer from heart and circulatory diseases, but to die early from cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol consumption. In any case, in 1991 American TV reported on the phenomenon known as the "French paradox"(French paradox) on the basis of these published results. This caused red wine consumption in the USA to skyrocket by 40% virtually overnight. Based on these findings, the pharmaceutical industry scented a big business with powder extracts of red wine, which contain all positive phenols but no alcohol. Soon after, fruity lozenges made from red wine powder containing all the valuable substances of a red wine were available.
In the mid-1990s, the US government announced in its dietary guidelines that alcohol, especially wine, enjoyed in moderation promotes health. Small amounts consumed regularly reduce the risk of early death from heart attack or other diseases by half. And surprisingly, the American "College of Cardiology" added alcohol abstinence (sic) to the list of risk factors for cardiovascular disease in 1996. This is astonishing for a country that has always had and continues to have an ambivalent attitude towards alcohol and stimulants. One example is Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, where the consumption of alcohol was demonised in an almost inquisitorial manner, but after more than a dozen years of suffering, it was realised that alcohol prohibitions did not bring the desired success.
However, the connection between moderate wine or alcohol consumption and a reduced risk of heart attack was soon put into perspective by a study conducted by doctors at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Obviously a positive result depends on whether the alcohol consumed is broken down quickly or slowly. People with rapid oxidation had a 36% lower risk of heart disease compared to total abstainers. But those with a slow breakdown even reached 86%. In America 15 to 17% of the white population belong to the slow group.
A study published in 2015 by a research team from University College London challenged all previous analyses and the conclusions drawn from them. This study examined 18,000 older Englishmen over a period of ten years. The basic statement was that all analyses made up to that point would have been impure. The basic statement was that all the dry alcoholics in the group of total abstainers had not been deducted. These, however, had a lower life expectancy due to the late effects and would therefore increase the mortality rate among non-drinkers (to which they do not belong) compared to moderate drinkers. Furthermore, not a single study has so far proven beyond doubt that alcohol is actually responsible for a higher life expectancy. It could be that moderate drinkers would eat a healthier diet than total abstainers. A Canadian team came to similar conclusions in 2016. Even those people who have to live abstinently due to an illness have not been excluded.
The sobering summary for all wine lovers: Alcohol (alone) or regular consumption of alcohol certainly has a negative effect on the human organism, even in small quantities. As to the question of whether certain substances contained in wine, such as resveratrol, only develop their positive effects in combination with alcohol or also on their own, for example in the form of pills, the second question is most likely correct. The positive effects described above, especially when drinking red wine, are at least cancelled out by alcohol. As a rule, total abstainers therefore live healthier lives. Nevertheless, one should not let a joyful enjoyment of wine with moderation and reason be spoiled, because joie de vivre has a positive influence on body and soul.
Regular consumption of alcohol should only take place if you are in a generally good state of health. Further aspects to be considered with regard to tolerance are gender, type of person (Asians, for example, tolerate less alcohol - see under ADH), medication to be taken regularly, body weight, amount of fat in the body, type of alcohol, drinking speed (what amount in what period of time) and environmental conditions (air temperature). Regular consumption of alcohol in excessive quantities can lead to allergies, various health problems and even dependence - i.e. alcoholism.
Alcohol should be avoided completely during pregnancy and breastfeeding because of the risks for the child. For overweight persons, limited consumption is advisable because of the high energy content (95% is converted into energy). People with pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or liver damage (fatty liver) as well as former alcoholics must avoid alcohol altogether to avoid the risk of a relapse.
The decisive question is what quantities of alcohol are acceptable or probably (!) not harmful to health. A wide variety of values are given for this, the range is between 20 and 60 grams a day (in case of doubt, the lower limit should be assumed). The World Health Organization (WHO) published the following in 2002: 20 grams of pure alcohol per day for women and 40 grams for men are the upper limit for (presumably) non-harmful alcohol consumption.
This corresponds to just over three-eighths (exactly 0.42 l) for men and just under two-eighths (exactly 0.21 l) for women of wine with 12% alcohol by volume. In women, the amount is lower because the liver is also busy breaking down female sex hormones. If the oestrogens decrease during the menopause, more alcohol is tolerated. Other reasons are lower body weight and higher body fat content. According to the DGE (German Society for Nutrition), however, the amounts tolerated are much lower, namely only a maximum of 20 grams per day for men and 10 grams for women - exactly half.
Finally, a golden rule for the recovery of the body for all those who regularly consume alcohol: one day a week, one week a month and one month a year without alcohol. Various substances contained in wines and spirits are harmful above certain quantities and are therefore partly defined with limit values. These are for example acetaldehyde, acetic acid, ethyl carbamate, histamine, methanol, ochratoxin A and sulphurous acid (see a complete list under ADI = acceptable daily intake).
In accordance with EU wine labelling legislation, any health reference on the label and in advertising statements is prohibited for beverages with an alcohol content of more than 1.2% vol. Descriptions such as health wine, sick wine, wine for diabetics, nursing wine, etc. are not permitted in order to avoid associations such as "good for sick people, diabetics or nursing mothers", etc. This also applies to attributes such as "digestible" or similar. The difference between moderate wine consumption and alcohol abuse is described in an essay by the poet Peter Rosegger (1843-1918).
Under vinotherapy, many spa facilities and wellness hotels now offer services to promote well-being, beauty and health through various grape products and moderate consumption of wine. See also ADH (alcohol breakdown in the human body), ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake), alcoholism, alcohol prohibition, allergy, blood alcohol concentration (BAK), hangover, headache, intoxication and drinking culture.