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Showing posts from July, 2011

Red wine may protect against breast cancer for some women at increased risk

As we have discussed here before, the question of alcohol consumption and breast cancer is a volatile one, but a new study helps to shed some light on the subject. It becomes especially difficult for a subset of women with a genetic trait that places them at increased risk. Two genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, are mutations of genes that normally code for tumor suppression. When one of these mutations is present, the chances of developing breast cancer are substantially increased, and it is now routine to test for them when there is a family history of breast cancer. And given the consensus that alcohol consumption further increases the odds of developing breast cancer, it might make sense that the BRCA gene and drinking would be an especially dangerous mix. But when it comes to red wine, the story takes a different turn.


This new study, from the University of Ottawa in Montreal, looked at a large population of women with breast cancer, and tested them for BRCA. Additionally, drinking …

How wine helps diabetes

If current trends continue, an epidemic of diabetes is looming over the country. Are wine drinkers exempt? There is good evidence that wine drinkers are less likely to develop type 2 (non insulin-dependent) diabetes, and recent research may help explain why: wine derived compounds work in much the same way as popular diabetes medications.


To begin with, type 2 diabetes is typically associated with obesity, a main reason for the upward trend in developed countries. Wine drinkers tend to have healthier lifestyles overall so a certain amount of the benefit relates to healthier eating and exercising regularly. However, there seems to be more to it than that, and now we have biochemical evidence to back us up. One way that diabetes drugs work is to make cells more sensitive to insulin, which in turn helps them take in sugar. (Type 2 diabetics have a problem with insulin sensitivity, not a lack of insulin as in type 1.) Fat cells in particular become resistant to insulin.

Diabetes drugs suc…

Let them drink wine: A Bastille Day toast to healthy drinking

Marie Antoinette may be popularly credited with spurring the French revolution (and losing her head) with her response to the shortage of bread, but a closer look at the events leading up the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 reveals that access to affordable wine was perhaps an even more important factor. In May a national assembly was convened to air grievances of the common people and demand formation of a constitution. A series of poor harvests and widespread food shortages contributed to general unrest, but the Bastille became a target both because “political” prisoners were housed there on arbitrary orders from the king, and also because it was an armory. But it was not the storming of the Bastille that was the first act of civil unrest in the French revolution, it was attacks on the customs houses where duties on wine were collected.


Wine, however, was not in particularly short supply in the 1780’s. The issue was a tax that was collected on wine as it was brought into t…

Space: The next frontier for wine and health?

Spaceflight has a number of deleterious effects on health, but recent evidence suggests that resveratrol – a polyphenol antioxidant from red wine – might help to offset some of these effects. If you ask me, not having access to wine with dinner is bad enough, but there is a long list of physical deteriorations that occur with prolonged zero gravity. These include muscle wasting and decrease in bone density, but there are also physiologic alterations such as insulin resistance and a shift from fat metabolism to carbohydrate utilization. These are issues with a months-long stay in the international space station, but extrapolating to the time required for planetary exploration they become serious problems.


A study on rats suggests how resveratrol may help protect against these changes. While the animals were not launched into space, there is an experimental model that mimics the effects to some degree by “unloading” the hind leg. This results in loss of muscle mass, decrease in bone de…