Jan 172012

Wine BlogWine, it seems, get more press regarding health benefits than anything else we consume on a regular basis. Just when we’re sure we are drinking from the fountain youth, out comes a study that contradicts the first.

To make matters worse, ABC News reports “A University of Connecticut researcher  (Dr. Dipak Das) known for his work on red wine’s benefits to cardiovascular health falsified his data in more than 100 instances, university officials said Wednesday. UConn officials said nearly a dozen scientific journals are being warned of the potential problems after publishing his studies in recent years.”

What’s a wine lover to believe?

Below is a summary of the often mentioned health benefits of alcohol and wine (mostly red wine) and in some cases the studies that challenge those very claims. In all cases, the benefits come from moderate consumption, usually considered to be no more than two four-ounce glasses a day

Here’s a list of recent claims:

Improves cardiovascular function by lowering the risk of heart attack and heart disease  According to an article in the Harvard School of Public Health “More than 100 prospective studies show an inverse association between moderate drinking and risk of heart attack, ischemic (clot-caused) stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, and death from all cardiovascular causes. The effect is fairly consistent, corresponding to a 25% to 40 % reduction in risk.

The Mayo Clinic states “Red wine seems to have even more heart-healthy benefits than other types of alcohol, but it’s possible that red wine isn’t any better than beer, white wine or liquor for heart health. There’s still no clear evidence that red wine is better than other forms of alcohol when it comes to possible heart-healthy benefits.  Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. A polyphenol called resveratrol is one substance in red wine that’s gotten attention. Resveratrol might be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces “bad” cholesterol and prevents blood clots. Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can lead to heart disease. More research is needed before it’s known whether resveratrol was the cause for the reduced risk.”

Recently an Australian Health Group called APC offered up a press release, “Myth Busted: Red Wine No Magic Remedy for Heart Disease.” The press release states “After reviewing all the scientific evidence it appears any positive effects of alcohol in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease have been hugely overestimated. In particular, red wine has no special, protective qualities when it relates to cardiovascular disease,” said coalition member Kathy Bell, CEO of Heart Foundation.

Increase the risk of Breast Cancer – Recent articles and news stories linked even moderate wine consumption to an increased risk of breast cancer. The Harvard Nurses Study II followed 10,000 nurses from 1980 to 2010 and asked them to recall their alcohol consumption. Recollection studies are not considered the most reliable because of underreporting.  The study said that women who drank 3-6 glasses a week had a 15% greater chance of getting breast cancer while those who had 30 drinks per week, the risk was 50% greater. Not widely reported was the fact that women that engaged in binge drinking had higher rates of caner than those who did not.

Reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes – According to a 2005 study published in Diabetes Care by Amsterdam’s VU University Medical Center 369,862 individuals studied over an average of 12 years each, showed that moderate drinkers have a 30% less chance of developing Type 2 diabetes than teetotalers. In addition, a 2008 University of Massachusetts Amherst study published in the Journal of Food Biochemistry stated “Levels of blood sugar, or blood glucose, rise sharply in patients with type 2 diabetes immediately following a meal,” says food scientists Kalidas Shetty,. “Red wine and tea contain natural antioxidants that may slow the passage of glucose through the small intestine and eventually into the bloodstream and prevent this spike, which is an important step in managing this disease.”

Promotes a longer life – A 40 year Dutch study showed that men who drank a half a glass of wine a day out lived their non-drinking peers. Men who currently drink “should do so lightly (one to two glasses per day) and preferably drink wine,” says Streppel, a graduate student at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Men who reported moderate drinking (less than two glasses per day) of any type of alcohol were 33% less likely to die of any cause and 28% less likely to die of heart problems during the study. Wine however ruled the day. Men who drank about half a glass daily were 38% less likely to die of any cause and 46% less likely to die of heart problems during the study.

Wine drinkers on average, lived 4 years longer than men who did not drink at all or drank other alcohol.

Reduces risk of Colon Cancer – A study by Joseph Anderson, MD, and colleagues at New York’s Stony Brook University showed only 3% of people who drank three or more glasses of red wine a week developed abnormal growths including polyps compared to 9% of white wine drinkers and 10% of teetotalers.

Reduces risk of Cataracts – Results of the five year Reykjavik Eye Study (2005) demonstrated that moderate wine drinkers had a 50% reduced incidence of cortical cataract and just less than half the risk for nuclear cataract. The study did not include white wine. “These were mostly red wine drinkers because white wine is not widely consumed in Iceland. We don’t know if white wine does the same,” Dr. Jonasson said.

Slows the rate of Brain Decline – The seven year Tromsø Study in northern Norway of 5033 men and women (average age 58) demonstrated that moderate wine consumption can be associated with better performance on cognitive tests. Of the 68 other similar studies most showed a relationship between moderate drinking and better cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia, including both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Promotes Weight Loss – A 2010 study by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital of 20,000 middle-aged women of normal weight showed that those who drank moderate amounts of alcohol were less prone to gain weight. Dr. Lu Wang, one of the study’s researchers, said in an article in Reuters Health that the light to moderate female drinkers ate less, especially carbs, and expended more energy than non-drinkers. A study from Navarro University in Spain had similar finding for men and women.

A separate study from University of Ulm in Ulm, Germany showed that Resveratrol prevented rats from gaining weight on a high calorie diet by affecting the way fat cells operate on many levels. To get the same dose of resveratrol used in the mice studies, a person would have to drink over 60 liters of red wine every day.

Protects skin from Sun Damage – The University of Barcelona and the CSIC (Spanish National Research Council) report that some compounds called flavonoids found in grapes will help protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation. The study suggests manufacturers consider the use of flavonoids when developing photoprotection skin products. It doesn’t appear that consuming wine helps…you just need to rub it all over yourself.

So what is a wine lover to believe? I’ll just keep enjoying wine for what it is and any health benefits that come from it… is a delicious bonus!

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