The medical profession has recognized the healthful and nutritive properties of wine for thousands of years. Hippocrates recommended specific wines to purge fever, disinfect and dress wounds, as diuretics, or for nutritional supplements, around 450 B.C. A French doctor wrote the earliest known printed book about wine around 1410 A.D.
Most of the pathogens that threaten humans are inhibited or killed off by the acids and alcohols in wine. Because of this, wine was considered to be a safer drink than much of the available water up until the 18th century.
Wine is a mild natural tranquilizer, serving to reduce anxiety and tension. As part of a normal diet, wine provides the body with energy, with substances that aid digestion, and with small amounts of minerals and vitamins. It can also stimulate the appetite. In addition, wine serves to restore nutritional balance, relieve tension, sedate and act as a mild euphoric agent to the convalescent and especially the aged.
Although wine may be the oldest remedy and prophylactic still in use, there was an entire generation of medical professionals, especially in America, that obtained their medical education during the historical period known as Prohibition. Medical texts for nearly twenty-five years were purged and censored of any mention of alcohol, including wine, for any application other than external. This medical generation became educators to the following one, perpetuating medical ignorance of the potential health benefits of wine.
In the 1970s, the National Institutes of Health excluded and suppressed evidence from the Framingham Heart Study that showed moderate drinkers had 50 percent fewer deaths from coronary disease than nondrinkers.
Only when the television news magazine 60 Minutes reported in November, 1991 the phenomenon that has come to be known as the French Paradox did popular thinking of wine as medicine rather than toxin begin to return. Typically, the diet of people in Southern France includes a very high proportion of cheese, butter, eggs, organ meats and other fatty and cholesterol-laden foods. This diet would seem to promote heart disease, but the rate there was discovered to be much lower than in America; herein lies the paradox.
REGULARITY & MODERATION
Regular, moderate wine drinking was discovered to be one prominent factor. Studies in England and Denmark found the occurrence of coronary disease to be much higher in heavy or binge drinkers and (surprise!) even higher in abstainers. It is very important to note that Europeans generally drink wine and water with their meals, while Americans drink milk, iced tea, soft drinks or coffee.
& CORONARY BENEFITS
Moderate consumption of red wine on a regular basis may be a preventative against coronary disease and some forms of cancer. The chemical components thought to be responsible are catechins, also known as flavonoids. Catechins are believed to function as antioxidants, preventing molecules known as “freeradicals” from doing cellular damage. There are also compounds in grapes and wine (especially red wine, grape juice, dark beers and tea, but absent in white wine, light beers and spirits) called resveratrol and quercetin. Clinical and statistical evidence and laboratory studies have shown these to boost the immune system, block cancer formation, and possibly protect against heart disease and even prolong life.
One recent study, published in the 2004 year-end edition of the American Journal of Physiology, indicates that resveratrol also inhibits formation of a protein that produces a condition called cardio fibrosis, which reduces the heart’s pumping efficiency when it is needed most, at times of stress. More evidence suggests that wine dilates the small blood vessels and helps to prevent angina and clotting. The alcohol in wine additionally helps balance cholesterol towards the good type.
FOUNTAIN of YOUTH?
A Harvard study of factors that influence aging, as reported in the May 8, 2003, issue of the journal Nature, has shown that resveratrol extends the life span of yeast cells by 80%. Preliminary results of tests on multicellular animals are said to be encouraging; study co-author David Sinclair told Reuters News Agency that “Not many people know about it yet, but those who do have almost invariably changed their drinking habits, that is, they drink more red wine.”
Wine might even preserve cognitive function in the elderly. Several European studies have shown the prophylactic effects of regular light to moderate alcohol consumption may include the prevention or postponement of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia. Could wine be the original brain food?
A study published in January 2003 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that moderate, regular consumption of wine or beer decreases the risk of peptic ulcers and may help to rid the body of the bacteria suspected of causing them. Interestingly, both overconsumption, especially of beer, and any regular consumption of spirits at all, even at a low level, seemed to increase the ulcer risks.
The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a 14-year study of over 100,000 women, aged 25 to 42, from 14 states. The Nurses Health Study required participants to complete a questionnaire every two years detailing lifestyle choices and diagnoses of any medical conditions. The subjects were categorized into three levels of alcohol consumption. After factoring in such variables as family histories of diabetes and smoking habits, the study found that women who drank regularly and moderately (one or two drinks per day, a total of 15 to 30 grams of alcohol) had a 58% lower likelihood of developing diabetes. Both those levels that drank more or that drank less had a 20% lower risk than either abstainers or former drinkers. When preferences for types of alcohol were compared, those who chose beer and wine shared similar levels of risk, but those in who drank spirits and consumed more than 30 grams per day had a 150% higher risk to develop diabetes than even nondrinkers.
Other medical studies point to multiple benefits of regular, moderate wine drinking that may include lowered risks of stroke, colorectal tumors, skin and other types of cancers, senile dementia and even the common cold, as well as reduce the effects of scarring from radiation treatments.
SUMMARY / BOTTOM LINE
Over 400 studies worldwide, many of them long-term and in large populations, have concluded that most healthy people who drink wine regularly and moderately live longer. The single group exception, whose members should not consume any alcohol, is premenopausal women with a family history of breast cancer. The keys to the beneficial aspects are regularity and moderation. Overindulgence can be considerably more harmful than total abstinence.
The official recommendation in the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Fourth Edition, published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is “Advice for today: if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, with meals, and when consumption does not put you or others at risk.” This is a rather weak and passive permission rather than the ringing endorsement moderate wine consumption deserves, according to the vast majority of medical and scientific evidence. It is, however, a progressive leap from the 1990 Guidelines, which said, “wine has no net health benefit”, which is the contemporary scientific equivalent of saying “the earth is flat”.
On the other hand, wine is not a cure-all and not everyone should drink wine. There are also circumstances when no one should drink any alcohol. When combined with certain prescription drugs, for example, alcohol in any form can produce an adverse reaction. Wine should not be given to people with inflammations of the digestive tract, peptic ulcers, liver disease, pancreatitis, kidney or urinary infections, prostate disorders, epilepsy or alcoholism. As previously mentioned, pre-menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer should abstain from drinking any alcohol, including wine.
Headaches, affecting some people during or after consuming wine, may result from individual reactions to one or more of wines’ natural compounds. Although clinical trials have produced inconsistent results, red wine is suspected by some sufferers to trigger migraine headaches.
Phenolic flavonoids (the same ones that provide antioxidant benefits) are a component in grape skins related to tannins and which recent clinical evidence has shown to be the most probable culprits. Red wine has a much higher content than white wine of both tannins and flavonoids.
Chemicals called amines either dilate (histamines) or constrict (tyramines) blood vessels in the brain, either of which may cause headaches in a small segment of the population. Aged and fermented foods such as cheese, sauerkraut, salami and sourdough bread are high in histamines. Although both red and white wines contain histamines, reds generally have higher content, especially low-acid reds made from grapes grown in warmer areas. Chocolate, vanilla, beans, nuts, bananas, cultured products like cheese and yogurt and fermented products, especially dark beer, soy sauce and red wine are all significant sources of tyramines. Taking antihistamine drugs, either before or after consuming, won’t prevent or cure headaches.
The use of either aspirin or acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) either before or after alcohol consumption can seriously damage the lining of the stomach and should be avoided. The combination of acetaminophen and ethanol causes liver damage, so the former should never be used to treat hangover symptoms.
The only way to prevent a hangover is to avoid consuming too much alcohol. One good habit to develop is to match every glass of wine or drink with one full glass of water. Alcohol depletes electrolytes from the body and brain, so “sports” drinks can help also. The worst possible hangover “cure” is “hair of the dog”, since hangover is merely the winky-winky, socially tolerant slang term to describe episodic alcoholism withdrawal.
Overindulgence is potentially the worst health problem of consuming wine or any alcoholic beverage. Drinking too much ethanol at one time will cause headaches, nausea and other symptoms for anyone, regardless of individual tolerance to other compounds in wine. Drinking too much or too fast leads to loss of control and judgment. A couple of glasses of wine may help relaxation and lower blood pressure, but four or more raises blood pressure to a level of concern.
Alcohol enters the bloodstream while it passes from the stomach to the small intestine and continues to the liver which uses an enzyme called dehydrogenase to break down and eliminate alcohol from the body. Evidence suggests factors of body size, muscle mass, food intake, gender and experience affects one’s capacity to resist drunkenness to some degree. On average, a healthy human can metabolize one-half ounce of alcohol per hour. The best rule is to not consume more than one drink (4 ounces of table wine) per hour, regardless of size, sex or a full stomach.
Practiced in moderation and consumed with food at mealtime, wine drinking may develop cultural and sociological patterns that actually helps to prevent alcoholism. The vast majority of healthy people may enjoy wine regularly and moderately as a pleasure that supports and prolongs a gracious life.
c 1999-2006 by Jim LaMar. All rights reserved. (www.winepros.org/wine101/wine101.htm)