What wine really does to women


There is a (mostly) brilliant article of this name in today’s Times, written by John Naish.

It addresses the “wine o’clock” phenomenon – the middle-class mentality that a glass of wine or three each evening is a perfectly healthy way to unwind after a hard day.

But it isn’t – not for women, and especially not as they get into middle age and beyond.

A study which followed 1,300 women for 20 years found that the more a woman drinks in middle age, the greater her risk of dementia in later life. This is thought to be because our brains become more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol as we age.

The study showed that the danger threshold for brain function problems lies just above the UK government’s recommended maximum safe alcohol consumption for women: 14 units per week, with no more than 3 units in any one day.

Other key facts from the article:

  • In a 2011 survey by the Office for National Statistics, one in six professional women admitted they had drunk more than six units on at least one day in the previous week.
  • Six units equals three glasses of wine – an amount which is perfectly “socially acceptable”, yet which fits the NHS definition of binge drinking for women.
  • A US study that followed more than 105,000 women over 30 years found that women who drink nearly four units daily – two glasses of wine – were 50% more likely to get breast cancer.
  • Scientists believe this is because alcohol raises the levels of oestrogen, a hormone which is believed to trigger tumour growth.
  • Due to their smaller size, lower levels of water in the body, and differences in liver function, alcohol is more dangerous for women than for men.
  • Women who drink more than the recommended amounts of alcohol are at higher risk for liver, mouth, throat, oesophageal and rectal cancer than men.
  • Female livers cannot repair themselves as quickly as male, meaning women are also at higher risk of liver damage.

The article also cites research supposedly showing that those who drink moderately are healthier than those who don’t drink at all.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sceptical about such research.

I fail to see how anything that is, fundamentally, so toxic to the human body can be good for us.

I think the real issue here is that most of us are stressed out, strung out and psyched out – and chronic stress is worse for us than regular yet moderate drinking (i.e. safely within the UK government limits of 14 units a week for women and 21 for men).

But if we choose to unwind in wiser ways – taking our pick from exercise, meditation, deep breathing and a thousand other time-tested methods – we can safely ignore all those statistics suggesting our health will suffer unless we, too, schedule “wine o’clock” into our days.

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