To Your Health!
“Wine is the healthiest and most health-giving of drinks.”
—Louis Pasteur (1822–95), French chemist and bacteriologist
Wine has been linked to good health for centuries; its praise goes back to the Greeks, who worshipped Dionysus as the god of wine. Admiration of wine for its healthbestowing properties has continued throughout the centuries. It’s been credited with preventing dementia, diabetes, cataracts, various cancers and stroke, and improving longevity and brain function.
Elisabeth DeSwart, registered dietitian and an instructor at Cal Poly and Cuesta College, told me about Sardinia, Italy, where people live long and healthy lives, often pst age 100. “Centenarian communities around the world all share the practice of consuming plant-based diets. The centenarians living in the mountains of Sardinia also share a tradition of drinking a glass of red wine each evening.” She added that there are studies, “epidemiological research,” that support this finding in other countries and regions where that 5pm glass of wine is a daily practice.
A treasure trove of studies support the beneficial influence of wine, but there is an important caveat: The positive results are based on drinking in moderation. “Moderate consumption” is defined by the American Heart Association as one to two (four-ounce) glasses a day. How much wine you can drink in one sitting before the health benefits turn into dangers depends on a number of things, including your size, age, sex, body stature and general state of health. And it matters whether you drink your wine with food or on an empty stomach. Finally, gender enters in: Women produce less of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol. That’s why the recommendation is one glass for women, and two for men.
Heart Disease and Stroke: What the Studies Tell Us
“In vino sanitas (In wine there is health).”)
—Pliny the Elder (23–79), Roman officer and encyclopedist
In a 1999 article for Trends in Food Science & Technology, John F. Tomera reviewed numerous studies and found that many popular ideas about wine and heart disease were confirmed: “Current theory advocates that polyphenols in red wine… prevent substances from being converted to harmful oxidized chemical states, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, …which can promulgate coronary heart disease.” Researchers at Columbia University found that the possibility of suffering a blood-clot-related stroke dropped about 50% in people who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol, including wine.
Elisabeth DeSwart explained why the grapes that are made into wine help prevent both heart disease and stroke: “When our diets are too high in animal products and too low in fruits, vegetables and legumes, it can provoke an inflammatory response, narrowing the blood vessels and hardening the arteries. Grapes are remarkably phytonutrient-rich with an array of flavonoids and phenols, which may provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. With fermentation, grapes become wine, adding alcohol. These constituents are believed to work in concert together, protecting our brains, cardiovascular systems, and promoting insulin sensitivity.”
Diabetes and Cancer
“If wine disappeared from human production, I believe there would be, in the health and intellect of the planet, a void, a deficiency.”
—Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), French poet
Since cancer is one of the major killers affecting people in the West and diabetes a leading chronic condition, a drink that reduces the chance of their occurrence is a boon to fitness and longevity. A study reported in Diabetes Care (2005) found that moderate drinkers have 30% less risk than nondrinkers of developing Type 2 diabetes. Assuming the study controlled for factors like diet and exercise, this is great news since the number of people in the United States with this disease has been steadily increasing. The positive impact of moderate red wine drinking on lowering the risk of several types of cancer, including breast and colon, has also been shown.
After chatting with Elisabeth and reviewing all this good news about wine consumption, I opened a bottle of my favorite Syrah, and quaffed a moderate sized glass accompanied by a fruit plate. I immediately felt a lot better.