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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…
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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…

Why Age Gets Stronger with Wine

Because physical fitness and good health go hand in hand, muscle mass and strength are markers of resistance to frailty with aging. There are important behavioral associations such as regular exercise (no surprise there) and moderate regular consumption of alcohol, especially wine (only a surprise if you haven’t been reading this blog!) Studies on the subject are numerous and from many countries, suggesting that more than cultural factors are involved. A great example is this study[1] from Spain, which prospectively evaluated more than 2000 community-dwelling adults aged 60 and older at enrolment. The researchers were specifically interested in the Mediterranean drinking pattern, defined as moderate alcohol intake, with ≥80% of alcohol intake from wine, and drinking only with meals.  The subjects were followed regularly, with measures of muscle mass, walking speed, and endurance, and other factors. Using validated criteria, the subjects were classified as “frail” if they had low fun…

Update on wine and breast cancer

With breast cancer awareness month upon us again, it’s fair to ask what we have learned about prevention and treatment, and for wine drinkers, it remains a confusing picture. It’s clear that heavy alcohol consumption increases risk, not so certain whether moderation – especially wine – is all that bad; it might even be good. On one hand, the message from the medical community is unambiguous: any level of drinking increases the odds of developing breast cancer. On the other hand, at moderate levels of drinking, cancer risk is extremely difficult to measure with confidence, even more so with wine. Here’s why I think a daily glass or two of red wine with dinner is still a healthy choice: A recent study from the University of California San Diego[1] looked at survival and recurrence after breast cancer treatment, finding that light drinking had no correlation. Moderate alcohol intake was “protective against all-cause mortality” in non-obese women.There appears to be no breast cancer risk …

Is wine a probiotic? More than a gut feeling

That “gut feeling” you sometimes get may be more literal than you think: research continues to reveal the importance of the bacteria in our digestive tract, called the “gut microbiome.”  This symbiotic population of microbes affects health and well-being in often unexpected ways. The microbiome sends signals to the central nervous system, regulates inflammation, even influences cardiovascular health. Wine’s impact on health appears to depend significantly on the microbiome, and we are now learning that it may not actually be the constituents of wine that make it healthy for us; it is the things that the microbiome transforms them into. How wine promotes a healthy microbiome Wine’s relationship with the microbiome is a two-way street: Recent studies[1]  demonstrate how wine consumption influences the composition of the various bacteria, while other research demonstrates how the microbiome metabolizes wine into components that boost the immune system.[2] The idea that wine’s health be…