Alcohol is the most consumed drug in the world and in France. The attraction for alcohol comes from a genetic mutation that occurred several million years ago, even before the appearance of the first Homo sapiens. Moderate consumption of red wine does not present the same health risks as other alcoholic beverages.
Alcoholic fermentation appeared on Earth millions of years ago, thanks to a mutation that allowed yeasts to use the sugar in fruits, which were beginning to be abundant at this time of evolution, as an energy source. Everything leads us to believe that several animals have adapted fairly quickly to this presence of alcohol in the fruits, such as insects such as Drosophila or even mammals such as shrews and bats, which tolerate alcohol very well and are even , in some cases, attracted to this substance.
A similar situation has occurred for the human species. Recent studies indicate that the common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees and humans acquired the ability to tolerate alcohol thanks to a mutation in an enzyme (alcohol dehydrogenase) which made it possible to degrade ethanol 40 times faster and d thus reducing its toxicity.
At that time, our distant ancestors had to adapt to a life closer to the ground due to a drying climate and were therefore in contact with the rotten and fermented fruits that fell from the trees. The ability to tolerate the presence of alcohol in these fruits therefore presented a definite evolutionary advantage, because it allowed these monkeys to have access to additional calories which improved their chances of survival.
Alcohol is therefore not a drug like any other, insofar as our attraction to it is not only due to its psychoactive effects, but also because it has long been part of our dietary habits and has even contributed to the evolution of our species.
Red wine: beneficial at low doses, toxic at high doses
Despite the important place that alcohol occupies in our daily lives, we must not forget that this substance is the very definition of a double-edged sword. At low doses (2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women), alcohol consumption appears to be positive for health, as several studies have shown that it is associated with a significant reduction (20%) in the risk of mortality compared to people who don’t drink.
Women more vulnerable to alcohol
Unsurprisingly, at higher amounts, however, alcohol is very toxic and greatly increases the risk of premature death, particularly due to a very significant increase in the risk of at least six types of cancer (mouth, larynx, esophagus, colon, liver and breast).
The link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer deserves special attention, as statistics indicate that young women are drinking much more than before and are even catching up with men in this regard.
Studies show that regular alcohol consumption, even when it is moderate, increases the risk of developing breast cancer by approximately 10% and it is certain that this risk is much greater in the event of excessive consumption. . The recommendation from health agencies for women is not to exceed the suggested limit of one drink per day, to minimize the risk of cancer.
The secret of red wine: resveratrol
If you drink alcohol, toast moderately with red wine. Several population studies with hundreds of thousands of participants suggest that regular, moderate consumption of red wine may result in benefits greater than those seen for other types of alcohol due to wine’s unique content of phytochemicals like polyphenols, found only in the skin of the grape.
These molecules, resveratrol in particular, interfere with many phenomena involved in the development of cancer and could explain why studies show that red wine has a less pronounced impact on the risk of cancer than that observed for other types of alcohol: 15 times less for hepatic carcinoma and 6 times less for oral cancer.
– Carrigan MA et al. Hominids adapted to metabolize ethanol long before human-directed fermentation. proc. Natl Acad. Science. USA 2015; 112: 458-63.
– Slade T et al. Birth cohort trends in the global epidemiology of alcohol use and alcohol-related harms in men and women: systematic review and metaregression. BMJ Open 2016; 6: e011827.3.
– Allen NE et al. Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women. J. Natl Cancer Inst 101: 296-305