Recently, I came across an article claiming that two glasses of wine before bed can help you lose weight. The article cited a few research articles to make its claim, but I came away from the article unimpressed and unconvinced.
Health claims that sound too good to be true weave into and out of mainstream media on a regular basis. I’m sure we’d still be hearing about the purported weight loss benefits of wine for years to come. Most of us do sincerely enjoy wine and a movie on a cold night in, and now you’re telling me that this activity can help me lose weight? Sign me up.
Unfortunately, the sobering truth about these health claims is that almost all of them play to our desires and personal beliefs, without getting into the specific reasoning for those conclusions. It’s easy to sensationalize and twist the results of research for attention-grabbing headlines and to confirm what we already believe to be true. This is just another case of confirmation bias. If you already enjoy drinking wine and the social scenarios that usually accompany it, of course you’re more likely to believe that wine can, in some odd way, be good for you.
A deeper look into the research that the article cites shows how weak the evidence is for this claim. First is the issue of correlation vs. causation. In one study, drinking two glasses of wine daily was merely correlated with a lower chance of being overweight. There was nothing about the timing of those glasses of wine, nor was there any evidence of how drinking wine causes weight loss. We know nothing about other factors that could’ve also contributed to the weight status of the test subjects.
The issue of correlation vs. causation is the same issue that plagues health claims like “eggs are bad for your cholesterol” or “red meat causes cancer.” These are claims that the public conscience is still having trouble rejecting on the basis of bad science. It’s almost as if something is repeated enough times in our lives, even if it’s not true, it becomes more real.
Finally, another study that was cited in the article was research about a specific compound in red wine called resveratrol, that was found to suppress appetite–in bees. So does red wine (as a whole) suppress appetite–in humans? Before we believe such dubious health claims, it might be wiser to dig deeper into the purported evidence supporting them than it is to accept them at face value.
by Jeremy Lau