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California’s new coffee cancer warning no more than a tempest in a teapot

Europeans have their daily wine, Asians their tea, but it has been estimated that the primary source of dietary antioxidants for the average American is coffee. An impressive lineup of scientific articles attests to coffee’s health benefits, but in March 2018 a California judge ruled that coffee roasters and retailers will have to post a cancer warning label. According to a group called The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a chemical called acrylamide that forms in trace amounts during roasting is potentially carcinogenic. Citing a law passed in 1986 known as Proposition 65, they sued Starbucks and dozens of other companies. Despite a lack of evidence that acrylamide levels in coffee are enough to cause harm in humans, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled for the plaintiffs. In so doing, he ran counter to guidance from the World Health Organization, which officially dropped coffee from its list of possible carcinogens in 2016. The WHO’s determination was bas…
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The new French Paradox: How health officials are giving the wrong message about wine

French health minister Agnès Buzyn recently created a major buzzkill across the winemaking world by denouncing claims that wine could be beneficial and increase longevity. Ms. Buzyn, a hematologist, broke with wine loving President Emmanuel Macron, saying in a television interview that “The French population is led to believe that wine protects them, that it offers benefits that other alcohol does not. Scientifically, wine is an alcohol like any other.” This is true only in the narrowest sense, and wrong in the larger sense. Here’s why: Yes, it’s technically accurate to state that alcohol (ethanol) distilled from wine, beer or spirits is the same, but the conclusion that all beverages are equally detrimental is fallacious. We don’t consume the alcohol independently of the source. The benefits of wine are attached to the lifestyle of moderate consumption with meals; the pattern of drinking matters. But to the larger point, wine’s health benefits are not exclusively derived from lifestyl…

Resveratrol derivatives reverse signs of cellular aging - next beauty breakthrough?

While the bloom may be off the rose for resveratrol as a miracle anti-aging molecule, there’s more to
the story. Spin-offs of this wine-derived compound have recently been shown to reverse some fundamental changes in cellular aging in ways that the parent compound doesn’t. Resveratrol came to be a sort of celebrity molecule when it was demonstrated to activate genetic “switches” called sirtuins, which mediate the lifespan-extending effects of caloric restriction. But in the end it turned out that resveratrol is not a direct sirtuin activator, and experiments in animals other than primitive organisms failed to consistently replicate the effect. Resveratrol levels in wine and other dietary sources are too low to explain wine’s association with longevity anyway; secondly, when taken as a supplement it is rapidly metabolized into other compounds. But the concept of activating anti-aging genes opened new avenues of research, and new possibilities began to take shape. How splicing factor…

Wine and romance: poems about wine, love, and life

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this month we will take a diversion from the usual hard science topics relating to wine and health and look at wine’s affinity with love and long life. Some of the most famous writers have penned paeans to wine, including the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. His 1954 Ode to Wine weaves a numinous daydream about life with sensuous romance: “…wine, starry child of the earth” he writes, “full of wonder, amorous” and “…at the least, you must be shared.” No drinking alone for this guy, not if there is a friend or lover to celebrate with. He goes on: “My darling, suddenly/the line of your hip/becomes the brimming curve/of the wine goblet,/your breast is the grape cluster,/your nipples the grapes,/the gleam of spirits lights your hair,” and finally “your love is an inexhaustible/cascade of wine,/light that illuminates my senses,/the earthly splendor of life.”  Irish poet William Butler Yeats, himself a 1923 literature Nob…

Wear red and DRINK red for women’s heart health

This Friday Feb 2nd is the annual “wear red” day in Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness for women’s heart health. Why only a day for the number one threat to women’s health? Women are 5 times more likely to succumb to heart disease than breast cancer, which gets a whole month (October.) Another contradiction is that the advice women hear about prevention of breast cancer is the opposite of what you can do to lower the risk of heart disease: a daily glass of wine. Even one drink a day raises your risk of breast cancer, we are told, ignoring the overriding benefits of wine on heart health. Drink red wine to live longer Here’s why I think women should also “drink red.” For starters, wine helps de-stress and celebrates life. Stress is a factor in heart disease, and if that were the only way wine helped it would be worth considering. But the medical evidence is also strong: a daily glass of red wine helps raise the HDL “good cholesterol” levels, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular p…

Clinical trials on wine and health

The ever-quotable Sir Winston Churchill once said “however beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results” and that is especially true for any proposed intervention to improve health and longevity. Whether we are talking about a glass of red wine with dinner or a potential  blockbuster drug, clinical trials are the only objective way to know if it actually works. Drugs are required to prove their safety and effectiveness through prospective, randomized, double-blind trials, meaning that potential bias is minimized.  It’s tougher to do with lifestyle interventions like drinking wine, so we have relied on other types of studies. (These include for example observational or epidemiologic studies, which track health outcomes correlating to lifestyle factors.) There are nevertheless a few clinical trials on wine and health worth noting:

In 2015 the outcome of a 2-year interventional trial comparing the effects of red or white wine vs. no alcohol was reported in subjects…

Healthy drinking for the holidays

The holiday season is a time of conviviality, and nothing is more celebratory than wine. As we raise our glasses to toast friendships and family, we remember that wine symbolizes health and happiness. But it is all too easy to fall out of the habits that define healthy drinking, and moderation hardly seems a festive theme. With that in mind, here are a few (science-based) tips for healthy drinking: 1.Stick with wine. Peak blood alcohol levels are lower after wine consumption as opposed to spirits, even when the amount of alcohol is the same. (The same applies for beer, but beer lacks the beneficial polyphenols of wine.) Mixed drinks also tend to contain more calories from sugar, while calories from alcohol avoid spikes in blood sugar levels. 2.Whenever possible have food with wine. Alcohol is absorbed much more rapidly on an empty stomach, even for wine. What’s more, wine with meals dampens down what is called “oxidative stress” from certain foods such as red meat. Wine with food actual…