Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wine is a food: New USDA Guidelines

There is a chapter in my book “Age Gets Better with Wine” called “Wine is a Food” because what I found in my research for the book that having wine with meals is key to unlocking its healthful properties. There is no question that people use food as a drug, hence the term “comfort food.” I would even make the case that. Given the epidemic of morbid obesity, the effects of food abuse far outweigh those of alcohol abuse. So if wine is indeed a food, what is the recommended daily allowance?

Though authorities have long shied away from explicitly recommending that people drink wine for better health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently updated its policy recommendations to reflect the ever-increasing evidence of wine’s health benefits. Notably, mentions of the benefits of moderate drinking have begun to replace the admonishments about the ill effects of alcohol abuse. These two drinking patterns are distinct and separate, though it seems to have taken some time to reach the point where a discussion of this type occurs with federal agencies. Much remains to be done, but baby steps toward recognition of the epidemiologic evidence that moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers on average are certainly more than welcome.

Wine drinkers not only live longer but are healthier too. A study sponsored by Medicare a few years ago clearly demonstrated that drinkers have lower health care costs, with wine drinkers in the lowest health care expenditure category. Dr. Curtis Ellison, a foremost authority on wine and health, has stated that the single most effective thing a person can do to reduce their odds of heart disease other than not smoking is to take up having a drink or two with dinner. When considering how hard it is to get people to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and take their blood pressure medication, that’s a pretty powerful and simple recommendation.

So if wine is a food, then what is the recommended daily allowance? It may be a good thing to have as part of a meal but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for an RDA recommendation on the label. Wine’s nutritional value isn’t based on the traditional data that other foods are, but I would wager that wine does a lot more good than the vitamin and supplement pills that so many people take. Drink real wine, eat whole food. What could be better than that?
The USDA guidelines are available at:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The weight is over: new hope for the wine diet

I write this post with a bit of trepidation, because anytime we get in to the topic of wine and weight loss the inevitable controversy about resveratrol diet pills comes up. In fact it is the most recent findings about resveratrol and diet that prompted me to write this, and like so many previous reports it seems to have been widely over-interpreted. Supplement manufacturers are all over it despite the fact that like nearly every previous study, it wasn’t done on humans.

The study in question was however done on lemurs, a type of primate, so in theory they are closer to humans than lab mice or fruit flies. There is however an important difference, in that these lemurs have a variable body temperature regulation system such that their metabolism varies with the time of year. In winter they gain weight, which provided researchers with a convenient model to study the effects of resveratrol. What was found with resveratrol supplementation was increased satiety (i.e. less hunger and eating), with faster metabolism and less weight gain during their “seasonal fattening period.”* Given the pattern that many of us humans experience during the winter holidays this sounds like good news indeed.

But alas we are not lemurs, and honestly we have little to blame our seasonal weight gain on other than a change in behavior. It may be of some comfort however to bear in mind that resveratrol is a red wine polyphenol, and evidence that wine drinkers maintain a health weight as compared to nondrinkers is reasonably substantial. Clinical trials on the use of oral resveratrol supplements on the other hand can practically be counted on, well, the other hand. Encouraging though this recent study is to resveratrol supplement peddlers, it is by no means clear that the same effect will be observed in humans. As for me, I will continue to take my “medicine” in red liquid form, as I believe nature intended. Call it the wine diet if you like.

*Dal-Pan A, Blanc S, Aujard F. Resveratrol suppresses body mass gain in a seasonal non-human primate model of obesity. BMC Physiol. 2010 Jun 22;10(1):11. [Epub ahead of print]

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eye believe: resveratrol may prevent blindness

Here’s a word that you should know: angiogenesis. Sounds like a cover of a classic Rolling Stones song by Phil Collins’ former band, but what it refers to is the growth of new blood vessels. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes not. In the case of some causes of blindness, abnormal angiogenesis is a very bad thing indeed.

Resveratrol, the superstar molecule from red wine, has long been known to inhibit angiogenesis. This may be one of the reasons why it fights cancer, since tumors rely on ingrowth of new blood vessels in order to expand. Abnormal angiogenesis is also involved in some causes of age-related blindness such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, conditions affecting thousands each year. A recent study suggests that resveratrol’s ability to inhibit angiogenesis might help to save eyesight for many.

Like many such studies, this one was done in mice. These poor subjects had laser treatments to destroy some of the blood vessels in their retinas. Normally, the body would respond by sending signals to stimulate angiogenesis in order to restore the blood flow to the injured eyes, but resveratrol was noted to interfere with this process through specific molecular interactions that the research team was able to decipher. The implication was that protection against disorders related to abnormal angiogenesis might be achieved with resveratrol, though it is important to note that there is a lot to prove in order to apply it in humans.

One case study reported last year did provide some encouragement that oral supplementation with resveratrol might be able to help eyesight. The subject was an 80 year old man with progressively worsening night blindness, despite taking extra lutein and omega-3 fatty acids. This was correlated with deposits of a material called lipofuscin, a substance correlated with age-related loss of vision, in the retina. After 5 months of taking oral supplements containing resveratrol and other wine polyphenols, the subject’s vision improved by objective measurements and the lipofuscin deposits correspondingly decreased. While a case report lacks the heft of an actual clinical trial, it does suggest a potentially fruitful avenue of further research.

There are several other reports demonstrating the protective effects of resveratrol and wine polyphenols against oxidative damage and chemical toxicity of retinal cells, and even some benefits on inhibiting cataract formation. Wine appears to be unique among alcoholic beverage consumption in protecting against cataracts, which implies a role for the polyphenol antioxidants. I’ll keep an eye on the topic for you.

Khan AA, Dace DS, Ryazanov AG, Kelly J, Apte RS. Resveratrol Regulates Pathologic Angiogenesis by a Eukaryotic Elongation Factor-2 Kinase-Regulated Pathway. Am J Pathol. 2010 May 14. [Epub ahead of print]

Richer S, Stiles W, Thomas C. Molecular medicine in ophthalmic care. Optometry. 2009 Dec;80(12):695-701.