Friday, April 22, 2011

Should diabetics drink wine?

An epidemic of type 2 diabetes looms over the western world, with some estimates predicting that as many as a third of all Americans will have the condition within a decade or two. Obesity is the culprit, a complicated issue to be sure but the role of wine in the diet of diabetics is even more so. A recent study finding that low-dose supplements of the wine-derived polyphenol resveratrol improve glucose tolerance and other parameters in humans provides some guidance in sorting it all out.

It has long been known that wine drinkers, especially those who consume red wine in moderation with dinner on a daily basis, are less likely to gain weight and hence less prone to type 2 diabetes. There are a number of potential explanations, including the fact that wine drinking is linked to a range of healthy lifestyle factors including diet and exercise, but the science of wine polyphenols – including the antioxidant resveratrol – provides some intriguing evidence of a biochemical mechanism at work. Studies in mice have been very promising but this new randomized prospective double-blind study, on 19 human subjects, documents that it can be useful clinically if the results can be verified. Importantly the study used a low dose of 10 milligrams daily, consistent with what you might get in wine.

The question of whether it would be better to take the supplements and avoid the calories from wine remains a subject of debate. Clearly, wine drinkers do better in terms of developing type 2 diabetes, and resveratrol may have little to do with it. But calories from alcohol are metabolized differently that from carbohydrates and other food components, so that the spike in blood sugar is minimized.

All of this brings us back to the role of wine as a food. In the case of diabetics, it may actually be a functional food, by avoiding the types of calories that make the problem worse while providing natural ingredients that could actually improve the condition on a biomolecular level. In order for it to work, however, it all has to be integrated into a healthy lifestyle.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A charitable view of wine and health

As most of you know I am on the board for the Washington Wines Festival, which raises awareness of Washington’s wonderful wines and funds for worthy charities such as Camp Korey. The wine business has a long and laudable history of charity, dating at least as far back as the famous Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy. Dating to 1443, the hospice was a hospital for the poor and needy, supported by funds raised from the local wine producers. To this day an important wine auction is held every November at the Hospice, maintaining a centuries-long tradition.

Health care continues to be a popular beneficiary of charity wine auctions, and there are some interesting parallels to the circumstances that prevail today with the conditions at the time of the founding of the Hospices de Beaune. The Hundred Years War had just ended, but the long conflict had been financially ruinous. Marauders roamed the countryside, pillaging and plundering, and much of the population was destitute. The Hospice became a refuge for the sick, the disabled, orphans, expectant mothers, and the destitute, all supported by the wine industry. Every year here in the Seattle area, the Auction of Washington Wines raises money for the Uncompensated Care fund at Children’s Hospital, and the Washington Wines Festival supports Camp Korey, one of Paul Newman’s “Hole in the Wall” camps for seriously ill children. Down the road in Oregon a similar event benefits health care for farm workers, a group traditionally excluded from access to health care services. And there is of course the Napa Valley Wine Auction, which includes health care for the needy among its worthy causes. These are only a few of a large number of charitable activities around the country, especially important in a time of economic upheaval. Worldwide, the impact is in the high millions of dollars at the very least. And given that wine is not only a health food but contributes to the enjoyment of life, it is the ultimate win-win.