There are some debates in the realm of health that interest me more than others. The “is wine healthy or not” debate is one I stay in touch with. Wine interests me not just because I’m a fan but because it is ancient as both a food, convivial beverage, and medicine. Depending on your bias, religion, current diet plan, age, weight, and belief system, wine is somewhere between okay and healthy or just another sugar delivery system with unpredictable consequences never to cross your lips.
Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, wine is one delivery system for not just sugar but a host of antioxidants that are said to play a role in cardiac, brain, and skin health as well as lowering LDL cholesterol and raising HDL. It might even have components that can extend life or reverse states of ill health. That last claim is usually tied to resveratrol. You’ve heard of it. You might even be taking it and millions of dollars have been spent studying it, creating supplements made with it, and marketing it. It’s also found in red grapes, peanuts and dark chocolate.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on resveratrol research, and resveratrol products like supplements and skin care are (as of 2013) a $30 million dollar industry. We, I, want to believe that delicious foods and easy-to-take supplements might be life-extending; a fountain of youth in a glass. Sadly,
most of the research proving efficacy of resveratrol as said fountain of youth has been done on mice, cells in culture, fruit flies, and a kind of worm.
When it comes to human studies there have been many, but few reported in major medical journals.
One well-reported study is of 783 test subjects who lived in Chianti Italy, age 55 or older, who were tested over an 11-year time period. The scientists claimed “At the conclusion of the study, researchers discovered that there were no differences in rates of death, heart disease, or cancer between individuals who showed a high level of resveratrol in their systems and those who showed little or none.”
Not to be dissuaded, I find animal studies promising if not predictive of results for humans, and history leaves clues about health and healing that warrant looking at in modern times.
Historically speaking, wine as medicine has serious legs. The Chinese began fermenting fruit, rice and honey as far back as 7000 BC and resveratrol has been used in Oriental medicine to treat diseases of the heart, blood vessels and liver as well as “female problems.” Theirs is synthesized from Japanese knotweed.
- Papyri dating to 1850 BCE show that the ancient Egyptians had recipes for wine mixed with herbs for treating aliments
- In biblical times wine was used as sedatives, antiseptics, and solution for medicinal herbs
- In ancient India wine is considered medicine and as shown in illustrations from 1000 A.D.
- Hippocrates himself used wine also as an antiseptic, diuretic and for menstrual issues
The timeline goes on. Here in the present we have these:
- PubMed, an online division of the National Institutes of Health says, “The cardioprotective effect of wine has been attributed to both components of wine: the alcoholic portion and, more importantly, the alcohol-free portion containing antioxidants.”
- “One drink a day, preferentially wine, may help prevent depression,” said lead researcher Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, chair of the department of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Navarra, in Pamplona.**
- Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that red wine has anti-aging properties
- A study from the University of London found that procyanidins — another antioxidant found in red wine — keep blood vessels healthy and could be one of the factors that contribute to longevity in parts of southern Europe where wine is a staple for most inhabitants
**The studies that show that drinking red wine may protect against depression have not yet parsed out, whether it’s the compounds in wine or the social aspect of sharing wine with others, or, that it takes the edge off of stress.
What does this mean for you? In true rebellious wellness fashion I have to say, “I don’t know.” Why? Because there is no one way to be healthy, you must find out what your body prefers. There are a few caveats, and the first is that wine should be consumed in moderation. Women absorb alcohol more rapidly than men because of their lower body water content and different levels of stomach enzymes. Therefore, moderate wine consumption will be a lower amount for women than for men. Wine is really a food. As such, you should know what you’re getting in that glass of Pinot Noir from a nutritional point of view. Check out this great infographic from WineFolly.com. It, and the page it’s on, has all the nutri-fo you need to add wine in without having it sabotage your nutrient numbers.
All of my lighthearted support of drinking wine does not ignore the problem of overdrinking. Ann Dowsett Johnston wrote a fascinating book titled, Drink. It seems alcoholism is on the rise in a certain subset of the female population; midlife women. In it she says “We have normalized drinking,” she said. “We look at red wine like it’s dark chocolate. We know the downsides of the tanning bed and trans fats, but not the downside of our favorite drug.”
When wine is seen as food, a part of a meal, a shared way of relaxing with friends, I believe it can be healthy. When it becomes the meal or is used in excess of moderation on a regular basis the body — or the mind — will respond with ill health.
Raise a glass to the age youthfully potential brought about by a variety of lifestyle habits; wine being one delicious one.