The Health Benefits of Wine
Weighing the Pros and Cons
relationship between wine and health has
fascinated both oenophiles and teetotalers for centuries.
In 1724, London physician Dr. Peter Shaw proclaimed "wine preferable
to water" in his book In Juice of the Grape, a
pioneering examination of dietary health. Then, in the mid-1800s,
Louis Pasteur declared: "Wine is the most healthful and
most hygienic of beverages."
But it is only within the last 50 years that hardcore scientific
evidence has revealed wine's effects on health. The verdict?
The issue is layered with pros and cons, some of which still
slip elusively beyond the grasp of modern science. Most
of the discoveries have pointed to the benefits of alcohol
in general, but the recent buzz has specifically focused
on wine as a tool in fighting heart disease.
The serious interest in wine's link to cardiovascular health
began in the 1980s, and with it, the coining of the wine
lover's favorite phrase, "French
Paradox." (The French Paradox refers to the discovery
that while the French consume high-fat foods — a primary
contributor to coronary heart disease — they also drink
wine on a regular basis. The wine appears to negate the
damaging effects of high-fat foods). Dr. Justin Ardill,
cardiologist and proprietor of Reilly's Wines in Australia's
legendary Clare Valley, explains it has been noted since
the discovery of the French Paradox, that all forms of
alcohol, consumed in moderation on a regular basis, may
contribute to reduced mortality from coronary heart disease.
So is wine more beneficial to health than other forms of
by U.C. Davis and other leading universities in the research
of viticulture, including Australia's University of Adelaide,
Roseworthy Campus, recently found evidence to indicate that
wine, particularly red wine, is more beneficial to health
and well-being than other forms of alcohol.
Davis professor Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, who specializes in
enology, published one of the leading works on the subject,
"Wine and Heart Disease," which first appeared in Chemistry & Industry in 1995. In his work, Waterhouse
explored evidence that skins and seeds of grapes contain remarkable
amounts of antioxidants. Because red wines receive more contact
with skins and seeds than white wines during the winemaking
process, they become richer in antioxidants, although white
wines do also have measurable amounts of antioxidants.
in pill form makes sense. But wine? "Pourquois
pas?" say the makers of Longevinex,
a new pill made from French wine extract. The latter, a compound named resveratrol that has received a lot of buzz in the media lately,
is sealed in an airtight capsule to keep its molecules
stable. Each capsule contains 15 mg of red wine
polyphenols, the equivalent of 5 to 15 five-ounce
glasses of red wine. The possible benefits? Reduced
insulin levels, normalized blood pressure and
higher HDL ("the good") cholesterol.
A primary antioxidant found in grape skins is resveratrol,
noted for its ability to inhibit the oxidation of low-density
lipoproteins (LDL). Pinot
Noir has been singled out for containing
the highest levels of resveratrol among commonly consumed
Explains Waterhouse, resveratrol, along with a number of other
antioxidants found in wine grapes, such as querciten, have
been scientifically proven to slow the development of arterial
plaque, thus slowing or, optimally, preventing the development
of heart disease.
Oddly, however, simply consuming red grapes or grape juice
does not offer the same benefit as drinking wine. It is, according
to Ardill, the anti-platelet effect of wine that makes an
impact on heart heath. "Alcohol also increases the good
cholesterol in the blood," adds Ardill.
These days, wine is considered as beneficial to the skin as
it is to the heart. It has become en vogue to offer skin care
products and spa
treatments featuring wine or grape byproducts. Mimi Mettayanuvat,
a 19-year veteran of the skincare industry and manager of
the Beauty Collection Apothecary, a Los Angeles beauty emporium,
favors Dr. Brandt Skin Care for its high proportion of grape
seed extracts, which Mettayanuvat has observed to dramatically
Best known as the king of Botox, Dr. Fredric Brandt has dedicated
his career to slowing down the effects of time on the body.
Among the first to apply the knowledge of wine's antioxidant
properties, Brandt's pioneering efforts have produced products
that impart concentrated levels of grape antioxidants, which
he suggests to be the most powerful natural antioxidants available
for the skin, to retard and even reverse skin damage caused
by free radicals.
It is for the same reason that grape seeds have emerged as
the latest spa darling. The Spa at Corde Valle, an Auberge
Resort in Central California, is on the forefront of the
grape seed craze, offering a variety of grape-product body
treatments like the "Vineyard Experience," which
promises both anti-aging and immune boosting effects from
a herbal/grape seed steam followed by a grape seed exfoliation
and a grape masque and grape seed oil massage.
Yet despite all the hype surrounding the curative properties
of grapes, medical traditionalists warn of the dangers of
consuming alcohol, particularly the risks to women. The
September 2003 Mayo Clinic Women's Healthsource notes
that more than two drinks a day raises the risk of breast
cancer. The article, based on a 2001 study by Mayo researcher
Thomas Sellers, which first appeared in the journal Epidemiology,
also warns drinkers that women are far more susceptible to
liver damage from alcohol consumption than are men, and that
all drinkers are susceptible to brain damage from consumption
of controlled substances.
To drink or not to drink, what then is the answer to the
Somewhat cynical of mainstream medicine, Dr. Murray Susser
of the Longevity Medical Center in Los
Angeles believes in the traditional merits of wine as
a muscle relaxant and stress reliever. As for the
research into the beverage's pros and cons, Susser comments, "you
can prove just about anything with statistics." In other
words, studies on small, selective groups can easily obtain
a case for or against the consumption of alcohol. "I
don't think anyone can predict the future for any one individual."
believes that there are merits to the arguments for and against
wine and that every person needs to measure the trade-offs
for him or herself. The Mayo Clinic backs up Susser's directive,
instructing, "moderation is the key."
But, what exactly is moderation?
The American government defines it as one drink per day.
However, the Australians and Brits use a more generous definition
of two drinks per woman and four per man per day. Susser
defines moderation as a far more personal decision than a
government prescribed formula. "For some people, a glass of wine
a day is too much," he says. Susser worries about the
effects of alcohol on blood sugar levels and the subsequent
fatigue and depression that alcohol can cause in those less tolerant.
He does acknowledge, however, that for some individuals,
up to two glasses every day is perfectly tolerable.
Dr. Richard Fourzon, a doctor of chiropractic medicine in
Santa Rosa, Calif., deep in the heart of Wine Country,
sees many patients for whom wine consumption is a problem.
Although he specializes in treating patients with allergies
and intolerances, Fourzon generally doesn't address the topic
of wine consumption unless the patient brings it up. "If
you question wine consumption, you probably need to be cautious," he
says. It is generally in patients who question their tolerance
of wine that Fourzon finds allergy issues. Quite often, however,
he finds that the problem is with sulfites, not with the
actual wine, and can be circumvented when the patient sticks
to drinking sulfite-free wines.
Essentially, there is no right or wrong answer from a health
standpoint as to whether or not to enjoy wine on a regular
basis. But, as Susser sagely advises, a couple of glasses
of wine several times a week can be of less consequence to
the body than the benefits it provides to the soul.
with permission of Healing Lifestyles & Spas magazine,
a JLD publication. For more information about Healing
& Spas, please visit www.healinglifestyles.com or call 866-745-5413.
(Updated: 03/14/13 JAM)