Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The new paradox: why does France discourage wine drinking?

Although my book Age Gets Better with Wine is focused mostly on the science of healthy wine drinking, in the course of researching wine and health the topic of social policy about drinking is unavoidable. Frankly, regulators in the U.S. have made a mess of it over the years, but the French? It’s the French after all who demonstrated to the world that a habit of red wine with meals is not only a key to enjoying life, but to a healthier one too. But in recent years signs have appeared that even as Americans increase their consumption of wine, the French are slipping. And their government is all for it, or so it appeared.
Earlier this year France’s National Cancer Institute, a branch of the health ministry, released a report indicating that any level of consumption of alcohol increases cancer risk, and so abstinence is to be recommended. As one would expect, there was widespread concern that such a policy sent the wrong message. Winegrowers were frankly outraged, and members of the medical establishment began coming forward with a more broad-based view. Even if the findings regarding cancer risk were valid (there is plenty of evidence that it may not be entirely so), an abstinence recommendation fails to take into consideration all of the other benefits of wine, such as with cardiovascular disease (the original French paradox), Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and on and on. The net benefit of healthy wine drinking most certainly outweighs a narrowly defined cancer risk.
Fortunately, it appears that common sense will prevail at the highest levels of French government, at least on this issue. According to a report in Decanter.com, the French High Council for Public Health has now officially disavowed the Cancer Institute’s report. And French president Sarkozy recently announced that new, stricter regulations on advertising alcoholic beverages were to be relaxed. The French may have banned indoor smoking (hard to believe but true), but surely someone must have known that a program of national abstinence just wasn’t going to fly. It may be flattering to see the French emulating America, but trust me, the prohibition thing didn’t really work.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reason #101 to drink wine

We arrive at last at number 101 of the healthy reasons to drink wine, and I should point out that they have been in no particular order. Trying to decide the most important reasons would be pointless, and even the decision to limit the list to 101 is arbitrary. So with a toast, here we go:
101. In my book Age Gets Better with Wine, I review the science of aging and how wine has revealed secrets that have eluded kings and philosophers seeking the key to life extension for millennia. We have shown how wine drinkers live longer on average, and have lower rates of the diseases that plague us as we get older. But ultimately, it isn't just being healthy and living long, it's a matter of quality of life. Now we have evidence from an Italian study that wine drinkers do indeed have higher scores on quality of life measures as they age. So it turns out that age really does get better with wine.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Almost there: Reason #100 of 101 healthy reasons to drink wine

100. Jeanne Calment of Provence lived longer than anyone else on record, some 122 years, 8 months and 3 days. She was born before the telephone was invented and her death was a global news story broadcast over the internet. Throughout her life she enjoyed red wine on a daily basis and was fond of dark chocolate. Coincidence? Maybe, but why take a chance?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Don't lose your SIRT: resveratrol and the promise of lifespan extension

We are closing in on the list of 101 healthy reasons to drink wine, and my book "Age Gets Better with Wine" will be on bookshelves soon. (You can pre-order it at any of the major retailers now.) So we turn now to one of the most exciting aspects of wine, one which has opened a new frontier in anti-aging research. Resveratrol from red wine was identified a few years ago as the only significant natural activator of a family of enzymes called sirtuins, coded by the SIRT gene (hence the name). A long list of specific benefits are being discovered for sirtuins, beyond what resveratrol and other polyphenols do independently, and we will list only a few of them here.
96. It has been known for many years that caloric restriction - reducing an organism's caloric intake by around 40% of what it would normally consume - will extend its life by a similar percentage. Sirtuins were found to be the key to this effect, and when researchers discovered that by feeding the subject resveratrol the effect could be replicated without caolric restriction it made headline news worldwide. So far this has only been demonstrated in fairly primirive creatures, however, and it remains to be seen whether it works in people.
97. Sirtuins are responsible for maintaining metabolic balance. Activation of sirtuins by resveratrol may be one of the ways by which wine drinkers tend to be healthier overall.
98. As a separate but related phenomenon, sirtuins appear to mitigate the diseases of insulin resistance (the most recognizable being type 2 diabetes.) This is in addition to the independent effects of wine polyphenols on diabetes.
99. The growth of new blood vessels is called angiogenesis, and it is important to maintain the vitality of muscles and other organs that are in constant metabolic use. Failure of angiogenesis is one of the ways the heart muscle weakens with aging, and sirtuins appear to promote heart health by facilitating new channels of blood supply. Anything we can do to encourage this is obviously beneficial.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wine as an antibiotic: #95 of 101 healthy reasons to drink wine

95. Every few years there is a news story about an outbreak of E. coli infection, which is a bacteria that can cause significant illness. But just as wine drinkers tended to be better protected against typhus in the old days, there is evidence that red wine is an effective antibacterial agent for E. coli. In this case, the active compounds are quercetin and an aromatic called caffeic acid, according to another paper from Argentina. Again, more reason to drink whole wine.

ACE your high blood pressure test with wine

94. Resveratrol gets all the attention but it is far from the only healthy thing in wine (in fact it is a relatively minor component.) Another class of compounds call oligomeric proanthocyanidins (let's just call them OPC's) have a unique mechanism for lowering blood pressure. Researchers at the University of Buenos Aires found that they inhibit an enzyme called Angiotensin Converting Enzyme which contributes to hypertension in many people. Prescription ACE inhibitors are available as well, but who wouldn't rather drink a glass of red wine? It does have to be red, and it does have to be wine, because OPC's come almost exclusively from the seeds and alcoholic fermentation is required for extraction.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More wine on the brain: healthy reason #93 to drink wine

93. We continue to hear about all of the ways by which wine might be good for the brain: activating memory and learning enzymes, untangling the plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease, and so on. But some have cautiously pointed out that the polyphenols that mediate these effects might not actually get into the brain tissue. Our central circuitry is protected by what is called the "blood-brain barrier" so that toxic molecules can't wander in at will. This of course also creates difficulties in getting medications and helpful nutrients across. Indeed, studies have shown that after oral ingestion, wine polyphenols might not get in to any great degree, suggesting that what we see in a test tube might not be happening inside the brain.
But recent findings from Purdue University show that with regular daily consumption, levels do begin to accumulate in about a week to 10 days. So all of the things we have been saying about regular moderate consumption find more support here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Now hear this: wine prevents hearing loss

92. Loss of hearing is no laughing matter, and it can occur from either age-related decline or acoustic trauma (loud noise.) A few years ago, a group or researchers decide to see if resveratrol could play a role. Ealry indications were that becaue oxidative damage contributes to hearing loss, antioxidants such as resveratrol could be helpful. However, a more direct way to test it is with noise-induced hearing loss. A group of rats (hard rock fans, no doubt) were recruited to test whether resveratrol could prevent hearing loss induced by standardized noise exposure. It turns out that indeed it does, as if we are surprised.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where there is no wine, love perishes

Publication of the second edition of Age Gets Better with Wine is almost here, and so we are closing in on completing the list of 101 healthy reasons to drink wine. A few more thoughts from our ancestors before we get to the cutting edge science that has caused such a stir.
90. The Greek playwright Euripedes penned Where there is no wine, love perishes, and everything else that is pleasant to man. A bit dramatic perhaps but that was then the whole idea of drama and comedy was invented by the Greeks, in order to show the benefits and the hazards of moderate vs. excessive wine consumption.
91. The Roman romantic poet Ovid wrote It warms the blood, adds luster to the eyes, and wine and love have ever been allies. Some 2 thousand years later, Italian researchers indeed proved scientifically that women who drink wine have healthier sex lives.