“Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, makes weariness forget his toil.” — Lord Byron
In King Tut’s Egypt (around 1300 BC), the commoners drank beer and the upper class drank wine. “Wine is at the head of all medicines; where wine is lacking, drugs are necessary.” Babylonian Talmud (180 BC to 430 AD). “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red.” Psalms 75:8. Modern science is now confirming what our ancestors knew for centuries – drinking red wine is good for you.
The health benefits of red wine started being taken seriously after several scientific studies in the 1990’s reported that in spite of having similar intakes of animal fats, French people have half the coronary heart disease death rate when compared to Americans. This “French Paradox” has been attributed to the very high intake of red wine by the French.
Louis Pasteur wrote, “Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” Over the last two decades, several studies, both epidemiological and scientific, have confirmed the health benefits associated with consuming red wine. Dr. Maclurein in 1993 reviewed over 50 different epidemiologic studies and concluded that, compared to abstaining, consuming one drink every 1-2 days was associated with a 17% lower risk of nonfatal heart attack. Subsequent prospective studies confirmed this benefit in both men and women, on several continents, and in middle-aged as well as in elderly populations. His data was published in Epidemiology Review. Dr. Berger and colleagues reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1999 that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption reduced the rate of stroke among US male physicians enrolled in the Physicians Health Study. Over 50 more studies have further confirmed the cardio-vascular health benefits of drinking alcohol, especially red wine.
The healthy effects of red wine appear to be derived from its alcohol and antioxidant content. Alcohol raises the good HDL cholesterol and also helps dilate the arteries. It reduces inflammation and improves insulin resistance. The French and Italian red wines are high in tannin, and this may partly explain their health superiority over wines made in other parts of the world. Tannins are compounds extracted from the seeds, skins, and stems of grapes that give red wines their characteristic dry, full taste. They are also a rich source of antioxidant flavonoids. These give red wine the health advantage over white wine, spirits and beer. The antioxidants help prevent the build up of plaque on the smooth muscle cells, as well as inhibit platelet formation, which can lead to blood clotting.
The benefits of drinking red wine are not limited to the heart. They also include stress relief, reduction in the risk of developing certain cancers, especially prostate and rectal cancers, lesser chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease, and possible prolongation of life. There seems to be some benefit with bone health too.
Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) noted, “Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.” Drinking red wine has its social and emotional benefits too. And the good news seems to have spread. Approximately four fifths of men and two thirds of women now consume alcoholic beverages in the USA. And red wine is high on the list. In the year 2000, Americans spent $20 billion on wine. But remember, if you want to derive the health benefits of wine, you must quit smoking if you smoke, increase levels of physical activity, eat a healthy balanced diet and maintain a normal weight.
Homer Simpson quipped, “Alcohol – the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” Alcohol has its darker side too. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can raise the levels of unhealthy triglycerides in the blood. Excessive drinking can also lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and an increased calorie intake. The latter can lead to obesity and a higher risk of developing diabetes. Binge drinking can lead to stroke and death. Other serious problems include cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death. And of course, you can become an alcoholic, which increases your risk of dying from cancer, liver disease and trauma. Drinking while pregnant can harm the baby seriously, causing fetal alcohol syndrome and birth defects.
If you suffer from medical problems or take prescription drugs, get your physician’s approval before embarking on a daily drinking program. And if you do drink, do so in moderation. Women should limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day, men to no more than two drinks per day. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and are better able to metabolizes alcohol than women. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 oz. of liquor or 80-proof spirits. So, lets have a drink of red wine today and as Humphrey Bogart, with a glass of Vive Clicquot, toasted Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”