The World Health Organization (WHO) is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subjects of health and wellbeing. They have released and sponsored studies all over the world to determine the various health ramifications of different actions and, in recent years, have been paying particular attention to wine and how it may be able to positively affect the health of those who drink it.
The organization has played host to a number of experts over the years, many of whom have different things to say about the various qualities of alcohol and its health benefits.
Here we are going to look at statements that were recently made by a former expert in WHO, who believes that it may actually be more dangerous to abstain from drinking altogether than to enjoy the occasional glass of wine.
Dr Kari Poikolainen
The statements were made by Dr Kari Poikolainen, who is the author of Perfect Drinking and its Enemies. The doctor has been making the case for healthy alcohol consumption for a number of years, following the generally held philosophy that drinking in moderation is not harmful to health and following on from it by stating that it is actually beneficial.
He has actually come to the conclusion that the current recommended daily allowance for alcohol intake, which stands at approximately a medium glass of wine for women through to a large for men, may actually be inaccurate. His assertion is that it may be healthier to drink an entire bottle of wine every day to get the most out of the drink.
There are a number of health benefits that have been commonly associated with wine consumption, including lowered risk of heart disease, strokes and some forms of cancer. However, Dr Kari Poikolainen’s claims that people can drink more than we may have thought need to be backed up with hard evidence.
That’s what the doctor has tried to do by demonstrating how he has analysed decades of evidence and studies on the many effects of alcohol, specifically wines, on the human body. His conclusion not only states that the daily recommended limit may be lower than is necessary, but that the harmful issues that are associated with alcohol do not become an issue unless you consume over thirteen units per day. In laymen’s terms, that amounts to around five pints of beer or more than a bottle of wine every day.
He has taken these views further by claiming that drinking above the current recommended daily amount may actually be healthier for the human body that going completely teetotal and abstaining from alcohol altogether.
In his own words: “The weight of the evidence shows moderate drinking is better than abstaining and heavy drinking is worse than abstaining – however the moderate amounts can be higher than the guidelines say.”
Now before you go to replace every drop of water in the house with wine, it is important to note that not everybody agrees with Dr Kari Poikolainen’s claims, despite the evidence he has produced to back them up.
In fact, WHO has their own FAQ on safe alcohol consumption on their website, which covers the issue in a more official stance.
The WHO FAQ
WHO is actually far less complimentary to the idea of drinking alcohol. The official FAQ even goes so far as to completely refute Dr Kari Poikolainen’s statements by stating that the safest thing to do is not drink any alcohol at all.
However, the FAQ also goes on to add that the organization doesn’t recommend any particular limits on alcohol consumption and also recognizes the benefits of drinking moderate amounts of red wine, which have been covered in this blog on a number of occasions.
It should also be noted that this FAQ was constructed by Dr Lars Møller, Programme Manager, Alcohol and Illicit Drugs at WHO/Europe, whose views on the subject seem to fly in the face of those of many other health experts.
So when it comes to WHO and alcohol we get something of a mixed message. On one hand we have a former expert from the organization asserting that drinking as many as 10-13 units of alcohol a day may actually be good for you to the point where it is better than being teetotal, while another is claiming that complete abstinence from drinking is the only way to stay healthy.
Where Does This Leave Us
So where does this leave the wine lovers amongst you? For us, this shows that there is still a lot of research that needs to be done into the subject before anybody can be conclusive about the health risks, and benefits, of consuming alcohol and, as importantly, what amounts are considered safe to drink on a daily basis.
There have been many studies that demonstrate that red wine, in particular, is good for the heart and able to stave off a number of ailments when consumed in moderation. However, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest that alcohol consumed in large quantities can also have a number of detrimental effects on your health.
So for us, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. The wine enthusiasts in us really want to follow Dr Kari Poikolainen’s, as it would certainly give us more licence to try more of the wines that we know and love. However, Dr Lars Møller also makes a number of good points about the effects that alcohol can have on our reactions and the potential issues drinking to excess can cause.
We look forward to further research into the subject to see if there is a definitive answer one way or the other. However, for the time being we will take the middle ground and consume alcohol in moderate amounts, rather than abstaining from it entirely. We just may not quite go to the length’s that Dr Kari Poikolainen’s research suggests that we should and will also consider more studies and information from outside WHO in making our wine consumption decisions.