Monday, June 28, 2010

Drink to your health: The wine-medical research connection

As I discovered in researching my book Age Gets Better with Wine, from ancient times it has been wed to health care and healthy living. In modern times, wine has come to support medical research more directly, through charity auctions and direct funding. Credit the granddaddy of them all, the Hospices de Beaune, for showing the way. But some wineries are taking it a step further.

A few years ago I had the singular pleasure of attending the Staglin festival, which raises money for mental health research. What a glorious experience! All the top wineries in Napa participate, and although we had more wine that day than was strictly necessary for medical purposes, it was definitely a boon to my state of mind. Congrats to the Staglin family for raising awareness of an issue that many find uncomfortable and which suffers from a lack of research funding as a result. (The event is held every September, info on the Staglin website.)

Ehlers Estate is another winery that ties its profits directly to medical research, in this case heart health. Held in trust by the nonprofit Leducq Foundation, 100% of its proceeds go directly to fund research in cardiovascular diseases. Despite tremendous advances in treatment and prevention of heart disease (and an increasingly detailed understanding of the positive role of wine), it remains a leading cause of death worldwide.

“Live to Love Life” is the motto of the winery with my favorite name, Cleavage Creek. (Talk about the perfect wine for a plastic surgeon!) Profits from Cleavage Creek go to support breast cancer research, “one glass at a time.” Owner Budge Brown, who lost his wife Arlene to breast cancer in 1995, has made it his personal mission to do whatever he can to find a cure. Though I am sure that it was not what he expected when he started Cleavage Creek, it may very well turn out that wine holds one of the keys to winning that battle. We still have a long way to go, and ongoing funding remains crucial.

So drink to the health of your loved ones, celebrate life, and toast to those who are leading the way - preferably with a glass of Staglin, Cleavage Creek, or Ehlers Estate.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wine and colon health: More than a gut feeling

The status of your intestinal tract may not be the sexiest of topics, but for those with problems such as inflammatory bowel disease it is of overriding importance. Whether or not you have a life-changing inflammatory disease, colon health deserves to be taken seriously - at least seriously enough to consider how wine and resveratrol fit in. It’s more good news, as you will have come to expect.

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic, relapsing, tissue-destructive disorder for which there is no definitive cure. Patients typically undergo multiple surgeries and are on medication most of the time. It is also a difficult thing to study, but there is a model in mice in which the condition can be created by giving them a toxic compound called DSS. Various treatments can then be tested and markers of inflammation measured.

A series of recent reports indicate that resveratrol and other wine polyphenols (again resveratrol shouldn’t get all the credit) can be quite helpful. Using resveratrol in doses attainable through dietary means, mice with DSS-induced colitis in one study were able to reverse the loss in body weight and decrease several markers of inflammation. Evidence from this and other studies indicates that the wine-derived molecules act at a genetic level, fundamentally altering the inflammatory process. The implications for humans with inflammatory bowel disease are significant, but remain to be tested and proved. But based on what is known about wine and how it alters inflammation in other diseases, this is very encouraging news indeed.

I couldn’t help but notice another theme in these studies that seems to characterize much of the research in this field. The reports I reference here are from South Korea, Italy, and the U.S., highlighting the international nature of wine research. Who knows, it may be wine science that helps build connections between people around the world, much as wine brings friends and family together around the table. Cheers to that.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Exercise your red wine habit for healthy aging

It seems there is no end to the list of benefits to red wine. One of the more interesting facets being explored is the question of how red wine compounds might work synergistically with other anti-aging behaviors to amplify the effect. We all know, for instance, that regular exercise is an important part of slowing down the aging process, but who would think of having a tipple before hitting the weight room? It’s not such a far-fetched idea according to some recent studies.

Exercise, like most things that are good for us, must also be taken in moderation; too much and the overstressed muscles start releasing lactic acid and other deleterious compounds. With age the problem becomes worse, resulting in more oxidative stress which counteracts the benefits of working out in the first place! A study comparing oxidative stress in young vs old mice given resveratrol showed how this wine extract helps protect against these changes. Using several serum markers for oxidative stress, a group from the Division of Exercise Physiology at West Virginia University School of Medicine found that resveratrol given orally for one week dramatically reduced these signs of muscle stress after exercising the mice by electrically stimulating certain muscles to standardize the amount of exercise. The effect was more dramatic in the aged mice but held for the youngsters as well.

Another research group from Japan looked at mice bred for accelerated aging (“senescence-accelerated prone”). In this case, they were looking at slowing age-related decline in physical endurance. Even with exercise, their exercise capacity slowed over the 12 weeks of the test, but with resveratrol supplementation it remained significantly higher. The researchers pinned the effect to improved oxygen metabolism in a muscle cell component called the mitochondrium. (Mitochondria are in all cells and believed to be important in red wine’s myriad anti-aging properties.)

Resveratrol isn’t the whole story though. Another wine polyphenol, quercetin, has been tested in humans for effects on exercise. On recent study a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover examination of maximal exercise tolerance, noted improvements in the quercetin group after only one week of supplementation. This affirms earlier studies. No doubt there are other compounds in wine and elsewhere that contribute to the benefits of exercise and diet, so for now the best advice is to hedge your bets and have a glass of wine, maybe after each workout.