The Wine Press: Will two glasses a day keep the doctor away?
Imagine an elixir that reduces the risk of prostate cancer, kidney cancer, gastric cancer, colorectal cancer and lymphoma. It also decreases the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, gall bladder disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis.
In addition, it has benefits for the brain, decreasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. It's not a figment of imagination — this elixir has been available for centuries. It's called red wine.
Wine has been prescribed by medical practitioners for thousands of years for the preservation of health as well as treatment of disease. It has been administered as an appetite stimulator, a mild tranquilizer, a diuretic, and a blood pressure regulator.
A component of red wine, resveritrol, has been shown in animal studies to have numerous health benefits. Some of these include anti-aging, anti-cancer, antiviral, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory effects. Recently, red wine has been widely acknowledged for its protection against heart disease.
One out of every three Americans will die from cardiovascular disease. Over 100 medical studies and 25 years of research have suggested that wine in moderation is good for the heart.
These studies have provided strong evidence that alcohol raises levels of "good cholesterol" and also inhibits "bad cholesterol" from forming. A Denmark study concluded that moderate consumption of wine reduced cardiovascular disease by 60 percent.
Healthy drinker hypothesis
While there is mounting evidence supporting the benefits of wine consumption, critics have suggested the "healthy drinker" hypothesis to explain the results of the studies. They argue that wine consumption is correlated with improved health but not caused by it. Perhaps the participants in the studies who consumed wine had a bias towards a healthier diet and more exercise.
A 2006 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine refuted this hypothesis. The study demonstrated that healthy men consuming one to two drinks per day had 62 percent lower risk of heart attacks than subjects with the same healthy lifestyle who did not consume any alcohol.
More pragmatic advice is provided by Dr. Don Fox, a radiologist from Woodside, "No one has done a cohort study for 75 years, so we don't have absolute proof. Just drink wine and be happy."
Moderation is essential
Many studies show that the benefits of drinking red wine can be achieved from consuming one to two drinks per day. (The American definition of a standard wine drink is 5 ounces.) The caveat is that drinking three or more glasses per day causes a decrease in benefits. In fact, heavy drinking may increase the risk of breast cancer, cirrhosis and gastrointestinal cancers.
Dr. Bill Grove, a retired pathologist from Atherton, advocates moderation: "I wouldn't encourage people to go out and drink. Studies have shown that people tend to live a little longer with moderate consumption of wine. On the other hand, excessive consumption can lead to driving accidents and early death. It's a delicate balance."
Five components of healthy living
Drinking red wine is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. A 2006 study of middle-aged to older men, published in the American Heart Association Journal "Circulation," determined five factors relevant to preventing cardiovascular disease and diabetes: 1. Don't smoke; 2. Stay slim; 3. Exercise 30 minutes a day; 4. Maintain a diet low in animal fat, high in fiber; and 5. Drink in moderation. Adhering to these lifestyle recommendations decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 74 percent, the study showed.
As for No. 5, two glasses of red wine a day would be the perfect way to comply. Decades of medical research have established the numerous health benefits of wine. The next time you enjoy a bottle of wine with friends, raise your glass and toast, "A votre sante" (to your health).