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Showing posts from February, 2010

Is wine a health food?

I often joke that wine is a health food, but it actually is when looked at objectively. Of course in order to be a health food, it must be a food, which would in turn require that there be some nutritional value. The calories in dry wines are from alcohol, which is processed by the body in a different way than other carbohydrates, such that it tends not to cause a spike in blood sugar levels. So right away it has benefits over other calorie sources, since these blood sugar variations are believed to contribute to weight gain. Wine drinkers tend to have less of an issue with being overweight, so perhaps this is one of the reasons.

We all know, or have been told often enough to believe, that alcohol is detrimental and that such adverse effects more than counteract any potential benefits. But interestingly, our bodies come equipped with an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which does nothing but metabolize alcohol. The ability to consume alcohol is programmed in our DNA, so if we aren…

Should your doctor prescribe wine? Answer to NY Times piece

The New York Times online has a Q&A feature which today addressed the question of "prescribing" wine. Dr. Mark Willenbring of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism addresses the question. (His answer and my comments here: The good doctor does allow that it might be helpful in very limited amounts for some people, but dismisses the data as "correlational." In other words, finding a correlation between moderate drinking and health is insufficient to draw conclusions. I agree, but there is so much more than correlational data to draw on. In my book Age Gets Better with Wine I use what I call the skeptic's checklist for that very reason; we need plausible cause-and-effect explanations and evidence to support those explanations. I will leave you to read about it in the book, which is extensively referenced w…

A modern view of moderation

We hear so much about wine being healthy in moderation. Then there is the popular (and cynical) saying, “all things in moderation, including moderation.” If you are drinking wine for your health, and who doesn’t, it is actually quite important to define the term “moderation” if we are to get the maximum benefit. If you drink for purely aesthetic reasons, or anesthetic reasons for that matter, then you have other considerations to deal with. But here’s the deal on moderation:
Studies on wine drinking and health in populations often use weekly alcohol consumption as a convenient measure. From data like that we get the familiar J-shaped curve, showing that maximum health benefits are associated with about 2-3 glasses of wine a day for men and half that for women, and disease risk about equal to that of nondrinkers at about double that level of consumption (the bottom loop of the “J”.) But we also know that binge drinking is particularly bad, so the pattern of daily drinking is critical. …

Wine and Chocolate: a not-so-silly Valentine

Silly me, I thought I could write up a simple blog post about the health effects of wine and chocolate, just in time for Valentine’s Day. So I go online to search the recent medical literature on the health effects on cocoa, and find that there are now more than 2000 articles on the subject. Needless to say, my comments here are based on a selected list. (You should know by now that wine and chocolate contain many of the same antioxidant molecules that have proven to be so beneficial, and that it has to be in the form of dark chocolate. There are a lot of studies now on how cocoa polyphenols lower blood pressure and help keep arteries clean, and the latest ones provide confirmation of the earlier reports.)

One article out just last month caught my eye. It turns out that simply smelling dark chocolate can provide a sense of satisfaction. The researchers proved this by comparing blood levels of insulin and the satiety hormone ghrelin in volunteers who either ate or just smelled dark cho…

No Sir thing with wine-derived drugs

Pharmaceutical giant Glaxo made headlines two years ago with their purchase of biomedical startup Sirtris for $720 million, following reports that Sirtris was making progress with resveratrol-based compounds that might extend lifespan. But doubts are now being cast on the question of whether wine-derived molecules even work for anti-aging the way that scientists at Sirtris believe. It’s an important story for consumers as well as investors, given that use of resveratrol supplements continues to rise. (Consumer Lab reports that resveratrol use by consumers surged some 66% last year.)

If you have been following the wine and health story, you know why resveratrol is such an exciting compound. It has impressive anti-cancer properties (in lab studies), fights heart disease (again, not clinically proven), diabetes (if you happen to be a lab rat), and the list goes on. What is really interesting is that it appears to activate enzymes called sirtuins (the corresponding genes are called Sir1-…