Could a glass of wine really help with depression? Yes, according to one study that found depression improved when study participants imbibed in "moderate alcohol."

Wine, according to the study in BioMed Central (BMC) Medicine, seemed particularly effective, with researchers reporting "wine consumption in the range of two to seven drinks/week was significantly associated with lower rates of depression."

While wine drinkers no doubt would love to use this study as a reason to pour another glass, and maybe another, it's prudent not to take these findings too seriously, experts advise. "It's a fascinating study out of Spain that involved 16 centers," says Michael McKee, PhD, of the Cleveland Clinic. "The researchers were actually looking at the Mediterranean diet, and as a sideline, they looked at alcohol and depression and found this link."

However, McKee notes, there may have been other reasons for the lower incidence of depression in individuals who drank wine. Study participants were adherents of the Mediterranean diet which previous research has linked to improved cognition, McKee points out, so they were already ahead of the game. Another valid aspect—the wine drinkers in the study could have just had better social connections than the non-wine drinkers, and it's known that a flourishing social life can actually be protective against depression, he says.

"Wine may have been part of the meal and the people who drank a bit of wine may have been more hooked in socially and more relaxed in general," McKee says. And the amount of alcohol that was found to be effective was actually quite small, notes Lisa Larkin, MD, FACP, NCMP, director of the UC Health Women's Center at the University of Cincinnati. "You are talking about one third to one drink a day, which is a very small amount," she says.

Worth bearing in mind is that alcohol consumption can predispose a person to health risks, Larkin says. Current recommendations are for women to limit themselves to one alcoholic drink per day, and for men to have no more than two per day. Consuming more than this can increase a woman's breast cancer risk, Larkin says. And, McKee adds, alcohol is actually a central nervous system depressant. "Too much alcohol generally has a downer impact on mood," he says.

It may also be tempting to conclude that alcohol should be offered to people who are depressed in order to improve their mood, says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "There is nothing in the research that suggests that consuming alcohol is an effective way to deal with depression," he says. We have far safer and more well-researched treatment solutions for depression, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medications."

Michael McKee, PhD, reviewed this article.


Michael McKee, PhD, Cleveland Clinic. Phone interview, November 2013

Lisa Larkin, MD, FACP, NCMP, director of the UC Health Women's Center, University of Cincinnati. Phone interview, November 2013

Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training, Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Phone interview, November 2013

Gea, Alfredo et al. "Alcohol intake, wine consumption and the development of depression." 30 August 2013. BMC Medicine.