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Showing posts from March, 2010

Wine boosts the body’s antioxidant system

It’s hardly news that wine contains powerful antioxidants, just like other superfoods including blueberries, acai, and pomegranates. What isn’t so obvious though is how these compounds are absorbed into the body and whether or not they actually do any good. This problem of how food-derived nutrients, along with drugs and supplements, are taken up and delivered to “target” tissues throughout the body is called “bioavailability.” There are numerous compounds that perform miracles in a test tube but just aren’t absorbed very well from the digestive tract when taken orally. Resveratrol is a classic example of this; with more than 3,000 research articles published, it’s considered a fountain of youth in a pill (or a glass of wine) by many, but it turns out to have poor bioavailability. There must be something else in wine that explains its long list of health benefits.


Researchers at 2 universities in Spain provided some insight into the role of wine as an antioxidant in a recent study. Th…

Wine may help breast cancer patients receiving radiation

Despite advances in screening and early diagnosis of breast cancer, little has changed in how it is treated over the past ten or twenty years. For most women, it comes down to a choice of mastectomy or removal of the tumor (lumpectomy) and radiation. If it has spread, then chemotherapy is recommended. The good news for women choosing mastectomy is that breast reconstruction techniques have improved substantially, but for patients opting for “breast conserving therapy” an ordeal of several weeks of radiation treatment is still standard treatment. And despite the fact that the breast is conserved, the radiation causes irreversible changes and even some disfigurement on top of the dent left after the lumpectomy. But now there is some evidence that wine may help prevent some of these changes, despite lingering controversy about the role of alcohol in breast cancer risk.


The data comes from a study from the Catholic University in Campobasso, Italy, a center where wine and health research h…

Is red wine the new women's diet drink?

Why is it that we act so surprised when each new study showing that wine is a healthy drink comes out? This week it was a very large study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, showing that women who drink red wine are less likely to gain weight. To be fair, although there are several studies already pointing in that direction, this one adds heft to the data because of its size (nearly 20,000 women) and length of follow-up (nearly 13 years.) But if you have read my book or have been following my posts here, your response is more likely to be “well, duh.”


Here are the particulars: The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, identified a population of middle-aged women of normal weight and recorded their lifestyle habits as a baseline. Over the period of follow-up, some 42% became overweight and 4% obese, as determined by Body Mass Index. After statistically adjusting for factors such as exercise habits, smoking, and non-alcohol caloric intake, they found that mod…

Is resveratrol the new aspirin for heart attacks?

The newswires are abuzz this month about a recent report suggesting that resveratrol, the polyphenol molecule from red wine, helps restore blood flow and limit muscle damage after heart attack. The typical headline reads something like “Red wine component pill successful during heart attacks” or something similar, with the clear implication that some sort of clinical trial has been done. In fact, it was a study in mice, and while the results were impressive it is only one small step toward the giant leap of clinical practice. What happens in mice doesn’t always happen in humans, so we are no where near the point where your cardiologist is going to give you a resveratrol pill when you show up in the E.R. with chest pain.


Nevertheless, the results are encouraging. What happens in a heart attack is that the plaques that build up in the coronary arteries that feed the heart muscle cause a clot to form, completely obstructing the vessel and depriving the heart of oxygen. It’s similar to wh…

The politics of drinking: is there room for moderation?

Much political hay has been made after President Obama’s recent physical exam, with the doctor’s recommendation of “moderation of alcohol intake.” The polarized lens through which American political debate is viewed sees this as an indictment of the president’s drinking habits, as though any level of alcohol consumption sets a bad example, and there is no middle ground between alcohol abuse and abstinence. But as we know, at least in the case of wine, the healthiest place to be is moderate drinking (see “modern view of moderation” posted February 15.) Abstinence and excess share the same risk profile for heart disease and many other conditions; it’s the moderates who are the clear winners here, but I will leave it up to you to interpret the political parallels.
The president’s cholesterol has been creeping up too, and dietary changes were recommended. Here’s where the opportunity for what is called these days a “teachable moment” was missed. Moderate drinking, especially wine with mea…