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The Health Benefits of Wine

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Learn about the health benefits of consuming wine

The 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 alcohol?

Investigations 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.

On Popping Pills...

Garlic 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.

U.C. 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.

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 wine grapes.

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. Maria Rush, a 20+ year veteran of the skincare industry and Business Development Manager of Beauty Collection, a Los Angeles beauty retailer, favors Dr. Brandt Skin Care for its high proportion of grape seed extracts, which Rush has observed to dramatically slow aging.

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 treatments, such as a grape seed and rosehip mud wrap, and a grape seed and cherry bark scrub.

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 conundrum?

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."

Susser 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.

Article reprinted with permission of Healing Lifestyles & Spas magazine, a JLD publication. For more information about Healing Lifestyles & Spas, please visit www.healinglifestyles.com or call 866-745-5413.


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