Monday, August 31, 2009

Wine and civilization: more reasons to drink wine

87. Ernest Hemingway wrote that "wine is one of the most civilized things in the world." I say that not only is that true, but wine may have made civilization as we know it possible. When hunter-gatherer societies first congregated into villages and cities, the notion of septic systems hadn't been worked out so water supplies became of questionable safety. The practice of adding wine to water made it safer to drink, as Louis Pasteur observed a few thousand years later.
88. Wine became further entrenched in civilization during the golden age of Greece. Plato, who articulated so many of the tenets on which modern societies are organized, brought great thinkers together in what were called "symposia" which derives from the words "to drink together." Many of our most cherished institutions were conceived during these drinking sessions.
89. The notion of moderation is also an ancient one. The Roman orator Pliny the Elder noted "Nothing is more useful than wine for strengthening the body, and also more detrimental to our pleasure if moderation is lacking." Wine was firmly entrenched in Roman society, and in fact the expansion of the Roman Empire was possible because of the fact that the Romans has worked out the necessity of wine added to water to ensure potability.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Something else to digest about wine: good for the GI tract

85. When I was in my general surgery residency before training in plastic surgery, we did a lot of surgery for peptic ulcers, which are prone to bleeding and causing major problems. Advice for dealing with ulcers always included things like avoiding spicy foods and alcohol. some years later, it was determined that most ulcers are associated with a particular type of bacteria, not simply excess acid. As it turns out, wine polyphenols inhibit this bacteria (called Helicobacter pylorii), so better advice is to drink wine. Another one of those counterintuitive things about healthy drinking.
86. In the same vein, another problem is refulux of gastric acids into the esophagus, which over time causes changes in the esophageal lining leading to a particularly nasty type of cancer. Interestingly, red wine seems to thwart these changes, another counterintuitive finding.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Something to smile about

84. Wine contains compounds that inhibit the toxins from bacteria in the mouth that form plaques leading to cavities. Who know purple teeth were healthy teeth?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More on wine and the brain: surviving stroke

83. Wine drinkers are less likely to have the most common type of stroke, which is caused by blood clotting in the arteries to the brain as with heart attack. Since stroke is a major cause of disability and death, any benefit here is worth celebrating.
84. When the clot causing a stroke (or a heart attack) is dissolved, blood rushes in bringing oxygen to the cells that have been suffering for lack of it. Some of these cells will have already died, but many are capable of surviving if blood flow is restored soon enough. Paradoxically though, the toxins that have been building up are released with the restoration of blood flow, causing further damage. (This is know as ischemia-reperfusion injury.) Resveratrol and other wine polyphenols have been shown to dramatically improve cell survival after ischemia-reperfusion.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wine and Alzheimer's disease: drink for brain health

In this section we consider one of the major epidemics of our times, Alzheimer's disease. With the baby boom generation graying, the millions of new cases of this debilitating problem loom ominously. Drug therapies to date have had disappointing results. Fortunately, there is some evidence that wine drinking and other lifestyle factors can have an effect. So our count of 101 healthy reasons to drink wine continues with:
79. The Canadian Study of Health and Aging found that wine, coffee, regular exercise, and anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen were associated with the lowest risk of Alzheimer's.
80. The Copenhagen City Heart Study, a 15-year follow-up of more than 1700 subjects, found that wine consumption but not beer or spirits correlated with lower risk of Alzheimer's.
81. The Catholic University of Rome multicenter study found that drinking up to 2 bottles of wine per day for men and one for women correlated with higher scores on standardized testing of mental acuity and lower risk of Alzheimer's. (It must be pointed out that this level of consumption would have a range of detrimental effects in other categories, but it is a testament to the beneficial effects of wine on the brain nonetheless.)
82. The Bordeaux study, with perhaps the most dramatic findings of all, found that wine drinkers had an 80% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in a population age 65 and older.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Winning the rat race with wine

78. How does wine help the brain? One answer might be the ingredient quercetin, which may help with spatial learning and memory. Researchers at Nanjing University in China reported that mice given quercetin did a much better job at remembering how to navigate a maze. It was attributed to activation of enzymes in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, one of the key areas for memory.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is alcohol good for the brain?

77. Continuing our line of thought on wine and the brain, we turn to the question of alcohol's effects. Haven't we always assumed that alcohol kills brain cells, and so any positive aspects of drinking must be weighed against this? True, at high doses alcohol (as with anything for that matter) is toxic, but a recent review from Loyola University pointed to experimental evidence that moderate alcohol levels exert direct "neuroprotective" actions; that is, in addition to promoting healthy blood vessels that improve blood flow to the brain, the direct effects of alcohol on nerve cells are protective, at least in moderate amounts.
Add this to the list of healthy effects of alcohol in moderation where cardiovascular disease is concerned, and keep it in mind the next time you see an ad for some supplement touting "all the benefits of wine without the alcohol" because that is of course not possible.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Are wine drinkers smarter?

76. Sure, wine drinkers may think they are smarter, but before you write it off as smugness, consider that there is actually a documented correlation between IQ and preference for wine. In the Netherlands, all young men are required to register for the draft, a process which includes an extensive battery of physical and mental tests. One well-known study cross-referenced the IQ results with beverage preference, finding a clear linear relationship with wine; the smarter you are, the more likely you are to be a wine drinker. The results held up when repeated at intervals several years later. So either wine makes you smart (which is possible based on effects of wine polyphenols in the brain) or smart people are attracted more to wine (a better explanation of the data from this study). Either way, it's a win-win.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just sip it: #75 of 101 healthy reasons to drink wine

75. Many of the benefits of drinking wine have been attributed to resveratrol and the other polyphenols, and with good reason. The list of beneficial properties of resveratrol could probably fill our list of 101 reasons to drink wine by itself. And to judge by the number of companies marketing resveratrol supplements, you would think that drinking wine has become a quaint custom of a bygone age since it seems no longer necessary in order to reap the benefits. But not so fast! As I have pointed out, there is a lack of clinical studies confirming resveratrol's usefulness as an oral supplement, and one of the reasons may be that it is very poorly absorbed from the digestive tract. It is however taken up quite well through the lining of the mouth, so by sipping your wine, swirling it around to get the full flavor essence, you are actually getting more resveratrol in your system than by swallowing quickly. So those expensive pills are probably just making a more expensive end product of digestion, if you catch my drift.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

wine is a food

The new movie "Julia and Julia" which highlights the life of Julia Child, reminds me of what an incredible contribution to food and wine that she made. In an interview with the Wine Spectator, she once said "Life is too short to drink bad wine." She famously ended each of her cooking shows with a cheerful "bon appetit" taost holding a glass of wine, at a time when wine with meals was not part of the American lifestyle. In my book Age Gets Better with Wine I have a chapter called Wine is a Food, which I belive to be absolutely true. It is a healthful, nutritious part of a meal, and better for you that most of what passes for food these days. So item #74 in our list of 101 healthy reasons to drink wine: Wine is a Food.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

the inflammation age

Over the past couple of decades, the importance of chronic inflammation as a mediator of aging has become clear. All those antioxidants we hear so much about are ultimately targeted at inflammation. One dramatic example is the case of cardiovascular disease, where the process of plaque buildup in arteries is now known to relate more to inflammatory processes than simple buildup of cholesterol sludge. So the role of wine as a potential means of controlling inflammation may provide an explanation for some of its anti-aging properties.
71. There are several "markers" of inflammation in the blood, one of the more useful being c-reactive protein. High levels of this correlate to an inflammatory state and premature aging. Diets high in flavonoids such as quercetin (in red wine) result in lower c-reactive protein levels.
72. Research out just this month demonstrates the potent anti-inflammatory capabilities of resveratrol. Scientists in Scotland gave a group of mice a potent inflammatory trigger, to mimic the effects of septic shock. A second group pre-treated with resveratrol had a much diminished response, by blocking the production of two molecules known to be particularly destructive.
73. A diet study from Chile found that adding wine produced a much greater effect at reducing inflammation than adding vegetables, though the two together was best.

Monday, August 3, 2009

wine and skin

I am just back from giving a lecture on wine and health at the meeting of the Society of Wine Educators, a convenient excuse to escape the record 103 degree heat in Seattle! So thoughts turn to fun in the sun. Conveniently, wine plays a role in skin health which I will enumerate as we continue through the list of 101 healthy reasons to drink wine:
69. A study from Australia, where skin cancer is a major issue, found that those who drink wine have a lower incidence of precancerous skin lesions called actinic keratoses (AK's). Only a half glass per day, on average, lowered the incidence by 27%.
70. Wine polyphenols have been put to good use in skin care. Several studies have documented that resveratrol and other wine compounds can reduce the damage caused by UV exposure, the major cause of premature aging of the skin.