Allegrini 2024

Wine and health, the debate erupts, and becomes media, with the participation of virologists and immunologists

The Q&A between Viola and Bassetti, as in Covid’s time, between “harmful alcohol tout court” and moderate wine consumption “which can be also good”
A glass of wine (PH: Saman Taheri via Unsplash)

A glass yes, a glass no, wine, alcohol, consumption, excess, health, “health warning”, benefits, damages, drinks that cause tumors and shrink the brain, small quantities that would be good for you, and so on. In these days, the sacrosanct debate on the theme of “alcohol and health”, first rekindled by the EU commission’s green light (by tacit consent) to the Irish initiative, which, by law, will include, beginning this year, warnings about health risks on bottles of all alcoholic beverages, similar to warnings on cigarette packs, then from the Assoenologi Symposium (which we have extensively told you about), where scientific research was brought into the spotlight in support of the thesis that a moderate consumption of wine not only does not hurt but it would also be beneficial in some respects, and then again inflamed, precisely in these hours, by the statements of Dr. Antonella Viola, immunologist and full professor of General Pathology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Padua, who, on the national media, with the radio show “Mondo Nuovo” on Rai Radio 1, supported and continues to support staunchly what are then the positions of the WHO, that is, that there is no level of alcohol consumption that is not risky, and that even moderate alcohol consumption “damages the brain and increases the risk of tumors”, because it is a carcinogen. Positions supported by scientific research and documents, as well as those opposed to the demonization of alcohol and wine tout court (while all, without distinction, obviously, condemn abuse and excess”. “Doctors and politicians who tell citizens that alcohol is harmless should be ashamed!” Dr. Viola relaunches today from her official Facebook profile, with a position also supported, in these hours, by a note from Gianni Testino, president of the Italian Society of Alcoholics: “the ethanol and acetaldehyde contained in alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, and spirits) promote cancer. For this reason, it is unacceptable that the controversy on the effects linked to alcohol consumption involves doctors who, for deontological and ethical reasons, must adhere to scientific evidence”.
On the other hand, even today in the newspapers, such as “La Stampa” which, in recent days, has given voice to the opinions of Antonella Viola, there is space for the response of the nutritionist Giorgio Calabrese, dietician, and president of the National Food Safety Committee of the Ministry of Health, who repeated what was said in recent days in the Assoenologi Symposium, or that “wine is a liquid food”, and that its benefits, with moderate consumption, against cardiovascular diseases and more (as also mentioned in this video on WineNews), are ascertained by over 236,000 publications, and that what Professor Viola said is not correct. To which, again from social media and then from the newspapers, another well-known face of medicine, who became famous during Covid, replied, such as Matteo Bassetti, professor of the University of Genoa and Director of the Infectious Diseases Clinic of the Polyclinic Hospital San Martino di Genoa: “on a wine you need to give correct and clear messages. Especially in Italy. Avoiding abuse and consumption in large quantities is the correct message. We cannot compare wine to cigarette smoke or asbestos”, wrote Professor Bassetti, who added: “Antonella Viola said that wine shrinks the brain and is comparable to asbestos for its damage. She considers herself a teetotaler, though she does allow herself a glass of wine in starred restaurants. She has reached very high levels of science. Unattainable for those who love wine. Cheers!”.
In short, a question and answer between doctors and scientists, similar to the times of the pandemic. On which Assoenologi also returned to intervene, through the voice of president Riccardo Cotarella: “the recent Symposium that Assoenologi has organized in Naples saw the participation of doctors and scientists from all over the world. They attended the event with reports and detailed research that led to a unanimous conclusion: moderate and intelligent wine consumption can only benefit your health. And I emphasize that this is determined not by us oenologists, who are not doctors, but by illustrious professionals of medicine and science. It was reaffirmed how important a healthy lifestyle is, which is best represented by the famous Mediterranean diet - a Unesco world heritage site - which also allows moderate wine consumption during meals. And the so-called “French paradox” was also mentioned, namely: although the French eat a lot of fatty food, they rarely tend to develop heart diseases compared to other nationalities and this would be attributable to the fact that they consume red wine, especially in some specific areas of the country. In short, I believe the Symposium has made a definitive point on the subject of wine and health; the reports produced leave no room for interpretation, and the clear message that emerged is that everything we eat and drink must be consumed in moderation, and this applies equally to alcohol as it does to any other food. However, in the last few hours, we have heard a diametrically opposed position to what the doctors stated in the Symposium, and so we find ourselves with statements released that leave those who listen perplexed. As president of the Italian enologists, I have no intention of inciting controversy, but I believe that a sense of responsibility is required before ruling on such a delicate issue as human health linked to food consumption. And, if certain statements are made on a national radio broadcast, the sense of responsibility should be maximum, leaving no room for - perhaps - unjustified protagonism”. To summarize, a debate that is becoming less sectoral and more media-oriented, with new chapters sure to emerge in the coming days.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to defuse the controversy, European Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker intervened in these hours, telling journalists: “no one is against wine, I think everyone likes a glass of wine, what the Plan to Beat Cancer is about is the harmful use of alcohol, which is a public health concern”. According to the spokesman, the EU Plan calls for a “10% reduction in harmful alcohol use by 2025”. “It is a technical standard that contains the details of a measure already adopted in 2018, the Commission has not made any comments and in the absence of a negative opinion must no longer intervene on the issue”, the EU spokesman said of the Irish regulation, which provides messages on the health effects of alcohol on the label. “Labelling - he continued - is a very important topic. And we have already announced in the “Farm to Fork Strategy” and in the Plan to beat cancer that we are working on a revision of the EU rules on the subject, to enable consumers to make informed choices about sustainable and healthy foods. In this regard, an impact assessment is being prepared, and technical work is underway”, De Keersmaecker concluded.

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