The Health Benefits of Wine
© by Sheral Schowe
(Originally published in the Catalyst newspaper in Salt Lake City)

Almost one year ago, I made a New Year's resolution that I can honestly say that I stuck to. Instead of deprivation and punishment, upon which so many resolutions are crafted, I based my resolve on a reward system, by adding something positive to create positive results. My resolution was to add wine to my "health food" list.

Wine has been an important part of my life for many years. But the intent of this resolution was to regard the wine as food, with consideration to its benefits, locating as much supporting medical evidence as possible. The process was enjoyable and educational. Many of the results were obvious:

  • There was an increased enjoyment of the entire dining experience.
  • Foods tasted better with the addition of wine.
  • Certain wines evoked pleasant memories of places visited.
  • Dinners were more relaxed, thoughtful, and conversational with the ceremony of presenting, opening, pouring, and enjoying wines with family and friends.

Since it has been proven that stress is the precursor to many diseases and health concerns, it seemed that taking that extra time to relax and enjoy was an obvious health benefit.

In addition to the immediate collegial and digestive benefits of wine consumption, there are many hidden advantages that will become more apparent over time. Moderate wine consumption has been proven to help our bodies, long term, in a variety of ways. Over the past decade, hundreds of medical journals throughout the world listed the positive health benefits of moderate wine consumption. Here are just few of the most compelling findings from 2001:

The patient page of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, states that "Moderate alcohol consumption also appears to lower the risk of experiencing certain complications of heart disease." In a section entitled "Possible Benefits of Alcohol Use," the editors list reducing atherosclerosis, increasing HDL cholesterol and reducing blood clots as possible contributors to a lowered risk of heart disease.

A scientific statement from the American Heart Association's Stroke Council (Goldstein LB, et al. In Circulation 2001) state that "…moderate levels of alcohol intake for those who are currently drinking will probably do no harm and may reduce the incidence of stroke." They recommend no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for nonpregnant women.

Harvard alcohol researcher Eric Rimm concluded in Epidemiology 2001 that "The evidence indicates that the association between moderate alcohol consumption and lower risk for coronary heart disease is causal and that abstaining from alcohol could be considered a risk factor for coronary heart disease." Japanese researchers analyzed the relation between alcohol intake and coronary stenosis and reported, "The findings add to evidence that alcohol drinking confers protection against the development of coronary atherosclerosis." This was reported in Atherosclerosis 2001.

German researchers confirmed, as reported in Epidemiology 2001 by Bremmer, the protective relation between alcohol consumption and coronary heart disease indicating that consumers were found to be at a 45 percent decreased risk for heart disease with moderate consumption.

Abramson reported the findings of a study involving 2235 non-institutionalized elderly persons, in JAMA 2001, with an interesting conclusion: "Increasing levels of moderate alcohol consumption are associated with a decreasing risk of heart failure among older persons."

In a study of more than 600 women ages 44 and younger conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Malarcher in Stroke 2001 reported that "Light to moderate drinkers had a 40% to 60% lower risk of ischemic stroke than never drinkers. Regarding type of alcohol beverage, light to moderate wine drinking appeared to have a beneficial effect on stroke risk in this population."

Chilean researchers concluded that the "Mediterranean diet and moderate consumption of red wine have complementary, mostly beneficial effects of haemostatic cardiovascular risk factors." Their findings were summarized in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001.

There is good news for diabetic patients as well. The European Journal of Clinical Investigation 2001 noted that red wine protects diabetic patients from meal-induced oxidative stress and thrombosis activation.

The importance of consuming wine with meals was stressed in the Annals of Epidemiology 2001 by Trevisan et al. Italian researchers concluded that drinkers of wine with meals exhibited lower hazard ratios for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular accident. Both non-drinkers as well as those who drank wine outside of meals exhibited higher death rates from all causes, noncardiovascular diseases, and cancer, as compared to drinkers of wine with meals.

There were more than thirty major research studies reported in 2001 alone which provided compelling evidence that the moderate consumption of wine, particularly red wine, with meals was highly beneficial for short term and long term health. In addition, the most recent recommended diet "pyramids," including the Asian Diet, the Latin American Diet, the Vegetarian Diet, and the Mediterranean Diet each include a beverage recommendation: Consume 6 glasses of water, and, alcohol in moderation. The general consensus is one glass daily for women and two for men. The Mediterranean Diet specifically suggests wine as the alcohol recommended.

My New Year's resolution for 2001 was so successful, I'm planning on continuing indefinitely. Now that I have had a successful start with one section of the diet pyramid, I plan to continue this "health kick" by adding one more at a time. This year, it is the addition of fresh fruits and vegetables to every meal. Maybe by 2003 I will be prepared for one of those punishment and deprivation resolutions like intensive daily physical activity.

A Votre Santé!

January 2002

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