Curtis
Ellison

Curtis Ellison

USA - Boston, MA

Biography

Professor Ellison has a long history of research relating wine consumption to health outcomes. With training in internal medicine and epidemiology, he is a graduate of Davidson College, the Medical University of South Carolina, and Harvard School of Public Health. He has had appointments at Harvard Medical School, Georgetown University, the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine and, most recently, Boston University School of Medicine. At the latter, he was Chief of the Section of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology for two decades prior to his retirement in 2021; he is now Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, at that institution, located in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Professor Ellison also served for many years as a senior investigator at the Framingham Heart Study, the first large epidemiologic study of risk factors for heart disease, which has involved periodic evaluations of a population-based cohort of adults and their descendants since 1948.

Ellison’s strong interest in wine and health began in the early 1990’s when he appeared with Serge Renaud, the distinguished French scientist, on a segment entitled “The French Paradox,” shown on 60 Minutes, a popular weekly television program in the USA. The American public reacted dramatically to the discussion on that program that regular, moderate wine consumption might be an important factor in the low levels of heart disease in France. There was an immediate increase in wine consumption in the USA following that program, a trend that continues more than four decades later.

Professor Ellison was a Co-Founder (with Helena Conibear of the United Kingdom) of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, an organization consisting of more than 40 international scientists who work in alcohol and health. Since 2010, this group of volunteers has carried out critical reviews of more than 250 scientific publications relating wine and alcohol consumption to health outcomes. The periodic reviews of the Forum continue to be published on the Forum’s website: www.alcoholresearchforum.org.

Affiliations

- Professor of Medicine emeritus, Boston University School of Medicine
- International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research
- Member of the "Lifestyle, Diet, Wine & Health" Scientific Committee
- Chair of 'Lifestyle, Diet, Wine & Health' session 'Health Implications of Lifestyle choices: Dietary and Drinking Habits'

Areas of expertise

- Internal medicine
- Epidemiology

Abstract

Curtis Ellison

Wine Consumption and mortality: No safe level of consumption or J curve?

In 1974, investigators at the Framingham Heart Study in the USA prepared a manuscript for publication based on data from the first 24 years of observation of male participants including their consumption of alcohol and risk of mortality from heart disease: they found that consumers of alcohol had much lower risk than non-drinkers.  The authors concluded that there were four major “risk factors” for coronary heart disease: cigarette smoking, hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol, and abstinence from alcohol.  At that time, the Framingham Study was under the direction of the National Heart Institute which had to approve all manuscripts, and when officials there read the manuscript they immediately wrote that this manuscript could not be submitted for publication, adding “Refer to only 3 major risk factors and remove all references to alcohol.  With all the abuse in this country, we must not say alcohol prevents coronary heart disease.”

This event characterizes the prevalent attitude of the medical community and government officials at the time (and to some extent, even now).  Despite an immense amount of research data gathered over the past four decades, it remains the attitude of some today, who continually, and without data to support such, consider any alcohol consumption “unhealthy” or even “evil”.  Such individuals continue to publish warnings about alcohol based largely on misinterpretation of data, extremely selected studies, or even fraudulent intent, and have widely touted that any alcohol is unhealthy.  On the other hand, scientific research results are clear: well-done cohort studies have demonstrated, almost uniformly (!), that in comparison with abstainers, moderate drinkers have a rather large and statistically significant reduction in their risk of coronary artery disease and total mortality (with the latter being the “bottom line” for evaluation of health effects – yes, even epidemiologists can determine this end-point!)

Research has identified many of the biologic and physiologic mechanisms that help explain such beneficial effects and lead to such results.  Further, they have been able to clarify what constitutes the pattern of drinking that favors healthy outcomes: (1) the regular consumption of light to moderate amounts of an alcoholic beverage (with most studies showing that favorable outcomes are especially associated with wine), (2) avoidance of binge drinking: (3) consumption of the alcoholic beverage with food; (4) further, the maximum beneficial outcomes result from alcohol consumption in conjunction with other aspects of a “healthy lifestyle,” especially a Mediterranean-type diet, no smoking, adequate exercise, the avoidance of obesity, and the treatment of elevated lipids and high blood pressure.

To conclude, current scientific data clearly indicate that regular moderate alcohol consumption plays a role in the prevention of coronary heart disease and mortality.  Claims of health dangers from any alcoholic consumption are not based on sound scientific data and exaggerate the risks associated with moderate drinking.