Health Studies Abound But Which Ones Are Valid and Reliable?

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

In past columns, I’ve written about the overwhelming conclusions of multiple studies on the health benefits of a moderate consumption of wine.

Two glasses a day for men and one a day for women provide antioxidants and other compounds (polyphenols) that aid in preventing diseases, protecting against premature aging and providing overall health benefits.

I’ve also written on the deleterious effects of wine consumption. Certainly, all alcohol is potentially harmful to our overall health and for the unintended social consequences of excessive drinking. A number of studies have proven the negative effects of alcohol consumption, even at lesser levels than recommended. The British national health overseer urges consumers to eliminate consumption of wine or limiting it to one or two glasses per week.

While valid studies surely abound, I’ve read numerous “respected reports” of small control groups that draw conclusions concerning entire age groups and genders.

I’ve read numerous reports conducted over months, not years, that draw universal conclusions.

I’ve read numerous reports involving disease-afflicted volunteers that draw conclusions on every individual that walks the earth, sick or healthy, young or old.

In a perverse way, several reports are similar to those pervasive opinion polls to which we are perpetually exposed. Any topic and any issue seemingly will foment multiple conclusions. And multiple controversies. And embraced or rejected by the public to align with each person’s private viewpoints or preferences.

For me, there hadn’t been a convincing long-term study that provided indisputable evidence of the health impact of wine consumption.

Until last year.

The prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a new study, one of the largest ever. As reported by The New York Times, this government agency would undertake a $100 million global trial to determine the impact of wine consumption on the incidence of heart attacks, strokes and death in 7,800 volunteers aged 50 and older in 16 countries over a six-year period.

A lofty goal, and much needed in the face of conflicting reports that currently exist in the infosphere.

When I reported on this encouraging new study, I noted several counterintuitive aspects of it and the suspicious provenance of its funding. Most notably, the overwhelming source of funding was being pledged by outside sources: five of the largest alcohol-producing companies in the world. But not to worry. Private-public studies are legal under certain circumstances and the public was assured these firms would have no influence on the study. It would be conducted by independent parties, under the auspices of the prestigious NIH.

Lo and behold, the NIH just this past week announced the termination of the study.

Why? According to an NIH advisory panel, a small number of government employees had conflicts of interest due to interactions with alcohol industry officials aimed at influencing the study’s results. Surprise, surprise. The industry funding sources had attempted to influence the outcome and had successfully done so. The advisory panel found that employees attempted to “intentionally bias the framing of the scientific premise in the direction of demonstrating a beneficial health effect of moderate alcohol consumption.”

Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak advised NIH officials these actions cast “doubt that the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable.”

The overseer of the NIH, its director, Francis Collins remarked, “Is it even possible at this point that the results of such a trial would have sufficient credibility to influence anybody’s decision-making?” As obvious as this may be, I credit the NIH for terminating the study before it gained more traction and careened toward any false conclusions.

Finally, a case of government controls and checks and balances performing their intended purpose. Continuing this study clearly could have resulted in a disputed conclusion that would not have resolved its intended purpose. Perhaps the role of government in self-regulating itself is back on track.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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