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How globalization of drinking habits threatens the French paradox

It seems that the more studies we see on the relationship between wine and health, and the larger they are, the more contradictory the results. Headlines summarizing comprehensive international studies declare the French paradox dead, and all alcoholic beverages are equally detrimental. I think there is an overlooked explanation for this: over the past several decades, convergence of drinking patterns around the world has separated wine from its role as a daily part of a meal. Globalization has commoditized our views about drink, toppling it from its role as a culturally specific emblem. Global convergence of drinking There are several recent reports summarizing the trend,[i],[ii],[iii]and it applies for both developed and developing countries. Since the early 1960s, wine’s share of global alcohol consumption has more than halved, declining from 35% to 15%. Beer and spirits have taken up the slack, with beer gaining 42% and spirits adding 43%, both large gains. The bigger story howeve…
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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…

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…