By Sandrine Cabut
PARIS - Researchers have long been fascinated by the benefits of moderate wine consumption, especially when it comes to healthy hearts. But these findings have also created a quandary for health authorities, knowing that high doses of alcohol have in fact been proven to be quite harmful to the body.
A French study recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) provides a new piece to the puzzle. By comparing two populations of French and Northern Irish men in their 50s, a team led by Professor Jean Ferrières, a cardiologist, at the University Hospital of Toulouse, has demonstrated that at equal dosage, it is the pattern of alcohol consumption that largely determines the health effects. Compared to moderate and regular wine drinkers (typically the French), weekend binge-drinkers (typically the Irish) who have the same annual alcohol intake have double the risk of suffering a heart attack. And, in both countries, the rate of stroke is much lower (about 40%) among wine drinkers than it is among abstainers.
The "French Paradox" confirmed
In 1991, the researcher Serge Renaud speculated that the "French paradox" -- the apparent contradiction between low cardiovascular mortality among the French and their diet rich in fats and sauces – could be explained by their taste for red wine. Since then, epidemiological studies have confirmed his intuition, while basic research has explained why. The beneficial effects of a moderate consumption of red wine (about one to three drinks per day) can be partly attributed to the presence of ethanol and polyphenols in the drink. In moderate doses (less than 30 grams per day), ethanol, which is common to all alcoholic beverages, can act as an anti-atheromatic and platelet anti-aggregant. Also, polyphenols promote cardiovascular health, and have been shown to possess anti-cancer and anti-aging properties.
However, several studies, particularly one published in 2004 by Professor Ferrières, have suggested that these effects may be indirect. While they do benefit from ethanol and polyphenols, regular consumers of wine often have a healthier lifestyle, eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising more often than their non-wine drinking counterparts.
This new French study, which followed nearly 10,000 male subjects between the ages of 50 and 59 over a 10-year period, is quite striking. During this time, new incidences of heart attack were twice as likely among the Irish men than the French. There was also a strong contrast between the two populations' relationships with alcohol. In Ireland, 40% of the subjects were abstainers, while in France only 10% refrained from drinking alcohol. Among drinkers, weekly alcohol intake was comparable in both countries but the patterns of consumption differed greatly. Irish subjects drank predominately during the weekends while the French drank their alcohol at an even pace throughout the week. The drinks they toasted with also differed: over 90% of the French men drank wine while in Belfast beer and spirits were more popular.
Prof. Ferrières explains: "The difference between the French and the Irish vis-à-vis their risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) can be explained by three factors, each accounting for one third of the effect. First, whether or not individuals drink regularly or engaged in binge drinking; second, the type of alcohol, whether red wine or other; and third, their conventional risk factors of cardiovascular-hypertension, diabetes, tobacco." The research continues as the two groups are still being monitored in order to determine cancer risks for each population.
The issue remains sensitive in France. In recommendations published in 2009, the French National Institute of Cancer stated that the risk of cancer increases with an average consumption of one drink per day. "No alcoholic beverage, even wine, has a protective effect on the human body," says the document, which angered many French researchers.
Several large studies, including one by Dominique Lanzmann-Petithory, a student of Serge Renaud, have in fact reached the opposite conclusion. Lanzmann-Petithory, who worked with a database of 100,000 records spanning a period of 25 years, observed that men who prefer wine are 15% less likely to die of cancer than men who drink other types of alcohol.
At the end of the day, what are we to believe? All doctors agree that high levels of alcohol consumption can be harmful to the heart. Moreover, it is not recommended to start drinking in order to improve one's health, while the cardiovascular benefits of small daily wine intake have only been proven to affect individuals in the second half of their lives. Still, says Bordeaux neurologist Prof. Jean-Marc Orgogozo: "In light of the apparent protective property of red wine, it would be paradoxical to encourage prohibition."
Read the original story in French
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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