Image: Philip Bitnar/Flickr
Put another check in the healthy column for boozing with extreme moderation: A new study published in the journal BMC Medicine found that drinking a glass of wine each day can protect you from depression.
How moderate? Quite to extremely moderate, according to the study, with 2-7 small glasses of wine per week demonstrating the strongest anti-depression effect. Consumption of all alcohol types at moderate levels (under 15 grams per day, less than one standard drink by CDC measurement) also was shown to reduce incidence of depression, but to a lesser degree.
The effect was observed similarly in men and women, and was observed regardless of other factors such as marital status, smoking, etc.
The positive effect on mental health of this level of alcohol consumption was determined after examining some 5,500 light-to-moderate drinkers, aged 55-80, eating a Mediterranean diet, spanning a period up to seven years. None of the subjects had previously suffered from depression, or had any alcohol-related problems when the study began.
Previous studies have clearly demonstrated the link between high levels of alcohol consumption and depression. As for why these low levels of drinking show a different effect, the study suggests, "Lower amounts of alcohol intake might exert a protection that has been observed for coronary heart disease. In fact, it is believed that depression and CHD share common pathophysiological mechanisms."
According to the American Heart Association, consumption of one to two alcoholic drinks per day can reduce risk of coronary heart disease 30-50 percent. However, going beyond that can increase the risk of disease, as well as depression—though once you get into the heavy drinking category, the link between alcohol and depression can become self-reinforcing (the heavy drinking can spur on depression, which then can lead to self-medication with alcohol, and so forth).
Clearly important to note: This study looked at people with no prior history of depression; it excluded these people from the analysis. Studies indicate that life satisfaction typically bottoms out around the mid-50s, and then bounces back, so if someone hasn't been diagnosed with depression by that age, their life satisfaction is typically rising. From the results of this study at least, we can't make the leap to say low-to-moderate alcohol consumption can help reduce depression if you already suffer from it, only that if you don't already have a history of depression, small levels of alcohol consumption may help ensure you don't suffer from it at some point.
In any case, red wine joins coffee in "the wonderful tasting beverages that fight depression" pantheon, which proves that you might eat to live, but there's something to be said for living to drink.