Christmas is coming so why not indulge yourselves. Red wine is good for you and chocolate is better. It's all down to anti-oxidants those marvelous substances that mop up free radicals.
At least that's what the advertisers are telling us. Is it true?
Much has been made of the 'J' shaped curve and alcohol. This says that the more you drink the more unhealthy you are except when you get down to small amounts. The curve seems to say that drinking a small amount of alcohol is healthier than drinking none at all. When it gets down to near zero the curve takes a small tick upwards like the tail on a 'J'. Ah! say the retailers, that's because of the anti-oxidants. Red wine is full of them.
But consider who the non-drinkers are. There are those who are teetotal for religious or moral reasons. Then there are the recovering alcoholics. There are the chronically sick who are denied alcohol on doctor's orders. Then there are those who lie to interviewers. It's hardly surprising that as a group they are not as healthy as those who drink a bit. Is red wine good for you because of the revasterol? or because it is drunk by well-to-do people who are careful about their diets and can afford private health care?
The anti-oxidant story owes more to marketing than to science. If we got rid of free radicals by consuming more anti-oxidants would it help us to live longer? I worry about what would happen to our white cells, which make use of free radicals when they kill bacteria. In the clinical trials that have taken place where people have been randomized to take anti-oxidants or placebo, there has been no difference between the two groups.
There may be something in anti-oxidants, but there are so many confounding variables in observational studies that we just don't know.
If you are tempted to scoff mince pies this Christmas because of the raisins therein, beware of the fat in the pastry.