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Showing posts from January, 2010

American Heart Association drops the bottle on lifestyle recommendations

In a drastic lurch back to Victorian era temperance, the American Heart Association came out this month with lifestyle recommendations intended to promote “ideal cardiovascular health.” Their list of “Life’s Simple Seven” includes:
• Never smoked or quit more than one year ago;
• Body mass index less than 25 kg/m2 (I.e., not overweight)
• Physical activity of at least 150 minutes (moderate intensity) or 75 minutes (vigorous intensity) each week;
• Four to five of the key components of a healthy diet consistent with current American Heart Association guideline recommendations;
• Total cholesterol of less than 200;
• Blood pressure below 120/80;
• Fasting blood glucose less than 100.

Not much to quibble with there it would seem, but as always the devil is in the details. Let’s look more closely at the “healthy diet” components:

• Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber — and they’re low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you cont…

Wine and the Happiness Connection

One of the more interesting things I came across when I was researching the factors influencing longevity for Age Gets Better with Wine was the fact that happy, connected people live longer. It makes sense intuitively of course, but what makes it particularly encouraging is that nurturing our connections to community and friends, something we can simply decide to do, has a large influence on lifespan. Throw in a little wine, some exercise, and healthy eating and you’ve got it made.


It turns out that connectedness is linked to happiness too. In their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler reveal that networks wield more control over our lives than we realize. Through our social networks, even beyond our circles of friends, we tend to be either overweight, happy, sad, successful or not in measurable ways. Knowing happy people increases the odds of you being happy by 9%, while having unhappy p…

Resveratrol clinical trials: What’s the evidence?

If you are interested in anti-aging, or just the science behind healthy wine drinking, you must have seen the ads for resveratrol supplements. “All the benefits of wine without the alcohol” they might say, implying that the science is in and the matter decided. There is an impressive dossier of resveratrol research, now totaling some 3,000 research papers, and the beneficial effects of this wine-derived molecule are myriad. There is good reason why I dubbed resveratrol the “miracle molecule” in my book Age Gets Better with Wine.
In the book I also introduced what I call the “skeptic’s checklist,” a useful tool for evaluating claims about medical interventions and miracle supplements. The reason this is important is that while data from laboratory studies can reveal interesting properties and lines of research, what happens in a test tube is meaningless unless the effect can be documented in a clinical trial in humans. In order to obtain FDA clearance, for example, clinical trials need…

What causes those wine headaches? Hope for a solution

It seems like every time I give a talk about wine and health there is at least one person in the audience who asks about headaches. They would like to drink wine, they say, but sometimes it gives them a headache. Or another frequent question relates to why they didn’t get headaches drinking wine in Europe but domestic wines do; is it the sulfites?

The good news is that scientists are developing a good understanding of what triggers headaches for some people, and it doesn’t seem to be sulfites; all wines contain them. It probably isn’t the alcohol, unless you are prone to migraines or to imbibing too much. The culprit for most people is a class of compounds called biogenic amines, the most familiar of which is histamine. These are not products of the wine itself, but of bacterial contaminants. Fortunately there are fairly quick tests that can be done do measure the levels of biogenic amines, though these aren’t routinely done.

But without testing, the inherent variability of amine produc…