Drinking More Wine Makes for Healthy Resolution

As a wine columnist, my New Year’s Resolutions may have a different spin than yours. I want to use more wine in my daily meal creations, learn more from the local winemakers of San Benito County, expand my knowledge of world wines, especially Italian wine, and find some of the best bargains in great wine at great prices that we can all benefit from.

I also want to live a healthy life – and wine can play a part in that.
Here are some recent headlines I have found from my wine reading in the last month alone: “Women wine drinkers have fewer kidney stones”; “Moderate wine consumption cuts stroke risk”; “Cohort studies from around the world link moderation to longevity”; “Well-established cardiovascular benefits of moderation”; “Drinking wine may lower risk for upper digestive tract cancer”; “New research developments of the antioxidant front.”

My grandfather, who lived with us while I was growing up, had a glass of Sherry every night before bed. He saw it as a digestive and a practice that helped to keep him young. He lived to be 92. Whether this had anything to do with his constitution and quality of life seemed a bit like an old wife’s tale at the time, but he believed in wine’s health benefits and now there is scientific research that points to that conclusion.

The “French Paradox” was a segment aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes a number of years ago. It was one of the first mainstream programs to look at the benefits of wine in the diet. The “French Paradox” is the observation that, although the French and Americans have similar high fat diets, the French have a much lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. Speculation was that this was due to the protective effects of wine consumption, since the French drink much more wine than we do.
A new study by the same researcher of the “French Paradox,” Serge Renaud, offers more evidence that moderate wine consumption is associated with a significant reduction in all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer among men. Renaud and colleagues from the University of Bordeaux found that moderate wine consumption (2-3 glasses a day) was associated with a 30-percent reduction in the death rate from all causes; a 35-percent reduction in death rates from cardiovascular disease; and an 18-24- percent reduction in death rates from cancer.
“The results of the present study,” the researchers write, “appear to confirm the speculation that the so-called French Paradox is due, at least in part, to the regular consumption of wine.”
But how does wine have a positive effect on our health and what is in wine that provides the benefits?
A new study from researchers at the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland, identifies a mechanism for how alcohol favorably affects arterial muscle cells. According to Wilhelm Vetter, M.D., and colleagues, alcohol, when consumed around mealtime, reduces the proliferation of smooth muscle cells within the arteries. The growth of these cells is a key element in the development of atherosclerosis, which commonly leads to heart attacks and strokes. The study found that the ingestion of alcohol equivalent to two glasses of wine with a high-fat meal resulted in a 20-percent decrease in the growth of arterial muscle cells. Researchers suggest these results could have a profound effect on heart disease.
Other mechanisms may also be at work. Several researchers have suggested that the apparent health benefits of wine ingested at mealtime may be due to the ability of alcohol and other phenolic compounds in wine to counter adverse effects of fatty foods during the critical digestive phase.
An Israeli study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that drinking red wine with meals resulted in a 20-percent reduction in the LDL, the “bad” cholesterol oxidation.
In recent years, dozens of studies from all over the world have associated moderate alcohol consumption with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, as well as decreased overall mortality rates and other potentially improved health conditions.

This growing worldwide research consensus has resulted in certain changes in the world view of alcohol during just the last few years. In a significant departure from the past, major public health organizations and governments around the world now officially recognize that moderation can be part of a healthful diet for those who choose to drink.

The World Health Organization, the United States, the United Kingdom and the American Heart Association are among the health policy leaders that recently have issued balanced alcohol statements expressing caution in terms of alcohol abuse, but highlighting scientific findings that associate cardiovascular benefits with moderate consumption.

Moderation is obviously important, as is drinking wine with food. But in my mind, what is better than cooking with a wonderful wine and having a glass or two with dinner? The last few nights I have enjoyed a small glass of port before bed – in memory of the good advice and wisdom of my Grandfather Brockbank.


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