Research in the area of wine and health has exploded in recent years and in this blog I sort through it to see what is really useful. For a definitive resource please refer to my book Age Gets Better with Wine: New Science for a Healthier, Better, and Longer Life.
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Don’t get soaked: The truth about red wine and resveratrol
Much has been made recently about pro basketballer Amar’e Stoudemire’s “vinotherapy” rehab program, which involves soaking in red wine
baths. I tried it myself a few years ago at the Caudalie spa in Bordeaux, and
while it was a fabulous experience I would put it more into the pampering
category than physical rehab. But the practice does raise a lot of questions,
and as with so many issues about wine and health there is a kernel of truth
shrouded by a layer of hype.
Dr. Richard Baxter and Mathilde Thomas
For deep healing to happen, something would have to be
absorbed from the wine in significant enough amounts to have an effect, and
there is scant evidence that this occurs. A more realistic concept is
rejuvenation of the skin, which can absorb certain compounds found in wine.
Resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, has received much attention both as a
supplement and a skin care product. But just as there is not enough resveratrol
in wine to explain wine’s health benefits alone, there isn’t enough in baths
Credit goes to Mathilde Thomas, founder of Caudalie, for
connecting skin care to resveratrol. Science has backed this up too;
resveratrol can be absorbed into the skin, where it provides an array of
anti-aging benefits. Several large brands have now jumped on the resveratrol
bandwagon, including SkinCeuticals.
The hype of the story stems from the increasingly common
mistake of equating red wine’s benefits to resveratrol. (For examples, see my recent posts here.) The
reasoning goes like this: The French Paradox or some other study associates red
wine with longevity, or lower rates of heart disease, or diabetes, or something
else; resveratrol has been shown in lab studies to provide an explanation for
these benefits; but in order to achieve levels of resveratrol high enough for the same effect, one would
have to consume dozens of bottles; so red wine must not be good for you after
all. The correct interpretation of course is that it must be something other
than resveratrol, or in addition to it.
Three amigos: Me, Professor Joseph Vercauteren, and David Sinclair
It’s partly my fault. In my book I set out to identify a
plausible cause-and-effect relationship for each of the known benefits of
moderate wine consumption, and resveratrol fits the bill. But I also emphasized
that it is only one of many antioxidant polyphenols compounds in wine, and that
they often work synergistically. I also pointed out the relationship of red
wine consumption in moderation as a marker for many other healthy lifestyle
habits. The ability to relax is probably one of those, and if soaking in a tub
of wine helps, I am all for it.
It seems that the more studies we see on the relationship
between wine and health, and the larger they are, the more contradictory the
results. Headlines summarizing comprehensive international studies declare the
French paradox dead, and all alcoholic beverages are equally detrimental. I
think there is an overlooked explanation for this: over the past several
decades, convergence of drinking patterns around the world has separated wine
from its role as a daily part of a meal. Globalization has commoditized our
views about drink, toppling it from its role as a culturally specific emblem.
Global convergence of drinking
There are several recent reports summarizing the trend,[i],[ii],[iii]and it applies for both developed and developing countries. Since the early
1960s, wine’s share of global alcohol consumption has more than halved,
declining from 35% to 15%. Beer and spirits have taken up the slack, with beer
gaining 42% and spirits adding 43%, both large gains. The bigger story howeve…
This Friday Feb 2nd is the annual “wear red” day in
Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness for women’s heart health. Why only a day
for the number one threat to women’s health? Women are 5 times more likely to
succumb to heart disease than breast cancer, which gets a whole month
(October.) Another contradiction is that the advice women hear about prevention
of breast cancer is the opposite of what you can do to lower the risk of heart
disease: a daily glass of wine. Even one drink a day raises your risk of breast
cancer, we are told, ignoring the overriding benefits of wine on heart health.
Drink red wine to live longer
Here’s why I think women should also “drink red.” For
starters, wine helps de-stress and celebrates life. Stress is a factor in heart
disease, and if that were the only way wine helped it would be worth
considering. But the medical evidence is also strong: a daily glass of red wine
helps raise the HDL “good cholesterol” levels, which lowers the risk of
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 …