You Can Drink to Your Health

Red wine can protect against common cold, study finds

WEDNESDAY, May 1, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Wine can apparently go to your head in more ways than one.

According to new research out of Spain, wine -- especially red wine -- may actually prevent you from coming down with the common cold.

All it takes, it seems, is one to seven glasses of wine per week. However, the protective effects are stronger with even more: eight to 14 glasses a week.

"The strength of the association increases with the amount of wine, but people who drink one glass a day also had a lower incidence of colds," says Dr. Miguel A. Hernan, a co-author of the study and an instructor in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

"We were amazed at how strong these protective effects were," says Dr. Bahi Takkouche, lead author of the study and a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

The results are preliminary and there are several limitations, which both the study authors and outside experts point out.

"There could be a lot of explanations for this," cautions Dr. Arnold S. Monto, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. "We don't have a clear mechanism or a believable mechanism, but there might be one. This is a first and very interesting, but we need to work into it more carefully."

Though the common cold causes the loss of at least 30 million work days each year in the United States, very little is known about risk factors for the illness.

This study, reported in today's issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, is actually part of a larger group of studies seeking to understand what might predispose people to the sneezing, sniffling and aches and pains of colds.

The researchers have already found stress is a strong risk factor for cold, and that vitamin C and zinc have no preventive effect. They next hope to see if there's a relationship with tobacco.

The current study was originally designed to see whether consumption of wine, beer, spirits and total alcohol intake were associated with the common cold.

The researchers had 4,287 faculty members and administrative staff at five Spanish universities answer questionnaires about their drinking habits, medical history and other lifestyle variables. Participants were then asked to record daily whether or not they had any of eight symptoms of the common cold. Every 10 weeks, the individuals transcribed their notes and sent them to the researchers.

When the results were tallied, there didn't appear to be any association between total alcohol intake or beer and spirits consumption and occurrence of the common cold, but there was an inverse association with wine, especially red wine.

No one knows why this might be, though the effect does not seem to be attributable to the alcohol.

"Apparently total alcohol intake did not have any effect, but wine consumption and red wine consumption had strong effects, so the logical conclusion is that apparently the effect is not due to alcohol but to other components," Takkouche says.

Just what those other components might be remains a mystery.

One explanation is that resveratrol, a component of wine with a strong anti-inflammatory effect, is responsible. Another explanation attributes the effect to the antiviral properties of the flavonoids found in red wine. Wine may also have an effect on immune response.

"These are just speculations; we really don't know," Hernan emphasizes.

What To Do

For more information on the dreaded common cold, check out this fact sheet from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

For some caveats on red wine and other alcohol and the heart, visit the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Bahi Takkouche, M.D., Ph.D., professor, preventive medicine, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain; Miguel A. Hernan, instructor, department of epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Arnold S. Monto, M.D., professor, epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor; May 1, 2002, American Journal of Epidemiology
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