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Showing posts from March, 2011

German study confirms benefits of drinking in elderly

One of the hardest ideas to wrap one’s head around is the idea that alcohol consumption (in moderation) actually improves mental function and lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as we age. But a recent study from Germany adds to the already considerable evidence, and to the ongoing controversy. The study enrolled more than 3200 subjects aged 75 or more from primary care practices, and gathered detailed information about drinking and lifestyle patterns. Additionally, they were tested comprehensively for signs of declining mental function, and specifically Alzheimer’s dementia. The average age in the group was more than 80 years, and after 1.5 and 3 years of follow-up a clear benefit to the moderate drinking cohort was found. Drinkers were 30% less likely to experience mental decline, and 40% less likely to have Alzheimer’s.


The controversy relates to the question of moderate drinking as a lifestyle “marker” for a range of healthy behaviors. In other words, people in this …

Healthy wine drinking is a family value

There are few more controversial subjects than the topic of underage drinking, so let me just say at the outset that I am not encouraging it. But with many such questions, things aren’t always so black and white, as a recent study on teenage drinking demonstrated. In a nutshell, the study evaluated beverage preferences among high school students who display risky drinking patterns, concluding that hard liquor and beer are preferred over wine. The study, called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, questioned nearly 8000 adolescent drinkers, and the correlation between preference for liquor and/or beer was strongest among those who exhibited the riskiest behaviors (binge drinking, drinking and driving.)


No surprises there you say, we all know that liquor is quicker where the beverage is merely a vehicle for alcohol consumption as a drug. We don’t expect teenagers to be wine connoisseurs, even if it were legal. But there is the well-known European tradition of starting children on watered-dow…

Which types of wine are the healthiest?

I am often asked after lecturing on the healthful properties of wine which type is best to drink. Since much of the discussion has to do with the polyphenol antioxidants from the skins and seeds of the grape, red wine is the first criterion since it is fermented with the whole grape rather than the pressed juice. This allows for extraction and concentration of these compounds, familiar ones being resveratrol and tannins. But beyond that, which varietals have the highest concentrations?


According to the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, “The best kind of wine is that which is pleasant to him that drinks it” but modern science expects more specifics. (The point of course is that if you have a wine that you enjoy you are more likely to drink regularly and therefore reap the benefits.) But there are several difficulties in singling out certain wines for their healthful properties. Which compounds to measure? Are we talking about heart health or the whole gamut? Is it the varietal of the …

Is any amount of alcohol good? Resolving the conflict

Sometimes it happens that opposing views on a controversial subject juxtapose. Such is the case this week, with a new large study published on the role of alcohol and health, another outlining the reasons for it, and an opinion piece questioning whether any amount at all is beneficial. In brief, the argument goes something like this: Anti-tobacco activists point out that any amount of tobacco is harmful, and since alcohol in excess has many hazards it must be bad in small doses too, if less so. On the other hand, if moderate wine consumption is a good thing for health, as I affirm in my book Age Gets Better with Wine, then we must account for a positive role of alcohol in the health equation.


The case against alcohol is made by one Professor David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College in London. Professor Nutt outlines his reasons why he belives that it is a myth that small amounts of alcohol are not harmful: First, alcohol is a toxin, and amounts only 4 times…

Red wine compound resveratrol supports anti-cancer therapy

Resveratrol, for all appearances the miracle molecule from red wine, has disappointed on several research fronts but don’t count it out just yet. In the right amounts it may be an important part of an anti-cancer diet, but the story now is synergy: compounds working together in ways that enhance their effectiveness. Evidence has been slowly coming to light in recent years that the compounds in red wine amplify each other’s health benefits, explaining why studies continue to support the benefits of moderate drinking but supplements often fail in clinical tests. New research demonstrating how resveratrol supports the anti-cancer drug rapamycin provides another example of synergy.


Rapamycin , derived from a bacterium first found in the soil on Easter Island (hence the name, from Rapa Nui, the original name of the island), is clinically used as an anti-immune drug for organ transplantation. Its anti-cancer capabilities are being explored, in particular for breast cancer. But as with other…