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Showing posts from March, 2009

Should wine labels make health claims?

Winemakers have been in a debate for some years now with the U.S. Department of Treasury's Alcohol, Tax and Trade Bureau (formerly the ATF, for Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms--yeah, that made a lot of sense) about ingredient listing for wines, particularly since the healthful properties of wine polyphenols such as resveratrol have been widely publicised. A couple of years back, an Oregon pinot noir producer gained approval for a fairly benign claim: "Pinot noir develops a natural defense against botrytis (mold) in our moist, cool climate - the antioxidant resveratrol." Since resveratrol is indeed produced in the skins of grapes subjected to certain environmental stresses such as mold, and Oregon's climate is certifiably moist, it seems a fairly harmless claim. However, the feds simultaneously disallowed placing the same wording on another vintage from the same producer, citing concern about making therapeutic claims on labels or creating "misleading" associ…

drink with a friend

When I was growing up in California, there were periodic droughts that resulted in mandates to cut down on water use, and one of my favorite pieces of advice was to shower with one or more friends. Now it turns out that drinking with friends has measurable health benefits. It seems obvious that drinking alone is not necessarily a good thing, but a new study from Japan provides actual data that social drinking--in moderation--is healthful. (Whether it also leads to communal bathing remains a personal choice.)
The data comes from a large prospective public health study in Japan involving more than 19,000 subjects evaluated for the incidence of stroke and heart disease relative to drinking habits. As one would expect, light-to-moderate drinkers had fewer episodes (this has been reported in studies too numerous to list) and heavy drinkers had more. In epidemiology this is known as a J-shaped curve, about which more in my book. What was unique about this study was the use of a measure calle…

red, white, and breast cancer

The red vs white debate is enough to make me blue. Red wine, with very few exceptions, has much higher levels of the polyphenols to which many but not all of wine's benefits are attributed. In recent weeks, reports came out that it didn't matter whether it was even wine or any other alcoholic drink, breast cancer risk was apparently raised by as little as a glass a day. As I have pointed out in previous posts, there are too many problems with the way the data for these studies is gathered to say anything that definitive, but now a study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center here in Seattle weighs in with the red vs white wine question. They were particularly interested because earlier studies from the Hutch (as we call it here) found that red wine drinking correlated to lowered odds of prostate cancer in men, and a large body of research suggests that wine polyphenols are effective at countering breast cancer.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, was lo…

Wine lowers risk of esophageal cancer

Last week the news was that wine is supposedly equal to any other type of alcoholic beverage in encouraging the development of cancer, particularly of the digestive tract, even when consumed in moderate amounts. This week it is the opposite, at least in terms of one especially nasty type of cancer involving the esophagus. Wine drinkers, it turns out, have a lower risk because they tend not to get as much reflux of stomach acid up into the lower esophagus, which causes inflammation. This condition is called Barrett's esophagus and is not only miserable but potentially deadly because it predisposes to cancer.
It reminds me of my days as a general surgery resident, when one of the most common conditions leading to surgery was stomach ulcers. (They are prone to bleeding and numerous other unfortunate consequences.) Standard advice regarding ulcers was to avoid spicy foods and alcohol, in the belief that these encouraged the stomach to produce more acid. It was some years later that we …