HEALTH BENEFITS OF WINE
We begin with a review
of some of the published studies regarding the health benefits
from wine and other alcoholic beverages. The following is taken
mostly from the writings of Elisabeth Holmgren, director of the
Department of Research and Education at the Wine Institute.
Although she represents the wine industry, her writings seem to
be relatively even handed. Nothing that follows is meant to
obscure the fact that prolonged excessive alcohol consumption is
detrimental to ones health. Joels comments are in
Wines Role in the French Paradox
A new study by original French
Paradox researcher Serge Renaud offers more evidence that
moderate wine consumption is associated with a significant
reduction in all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and
cancer among men. The findings (Epidemiology, March,
1998) were based on a large cohort study [JM - cohort studies are
epidemiological studies that use individuals having a statistical
element in common, such as race, gender, age, etc., as opposed to
a random selection of individuals. As such, the results cannot
always be projected to the population as a whole.] of middle aged
men in eastern France. Daily, moderate drinkers who consumed
mostly wine were compared to non-drinkers and heavy drinkers.
Renaud and colleagues from the University of
Bordeaux found that moderate wine consumption (2-3 glasses a day)
was associated with a 30% reduction in the death rate from all
causes; a 35% percent reduction in death rates from
cardiovascular disease; and an 18-24% reduction in death rates
from cancer. The results of the present study, the
researchers write, appear to confirm the speculation that
the so-called French Paradox is due, at least in part, to the
regular consumption of wine. [JM - The French Paradox, of 60
minutes fame, is the observation that, although the French and
Americans have similar high fat diets, the French have a much
lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. Speculation was that
this is due to the protective effects of wine consumption, since
the French drink much more wine than we do. Of course, there are
many other possible explanations.]
How Wine Works: Emerging Research on Mealtime Alcohol
It is known that alcohol consumption reduces
the risk of coronary heart disease and overall mortality. [JM -
This statement is a bit strong. Statistical studies show a
relationship between two variables (here, moderate alcohol
consumption and reduced incidence of heart disease), but they do
not establish a cause and effect relationship - proof
that one causes the other. The recent wealth of data should give
us more confidence in a cause and effect relationship, but we are
not nearly to the point of proof. It took decades and
hundreds of studies before the Surgeon General was willing to
declare that smoking causes cancer.] But it has
been less clear just how alcohol works to protect the body
against heart disease and death.
A new study from researchers at the University
Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland. identifies a mechanism for how
alcohol favorably effects arterial muscle cells. According to
Wilhelm Vetter, M.D., and colleagues, alcohol, when consumed
around mealtime, reduces the proliferation of smooth muscle cells
(SMC) within the arteries. SMC growth is a key element in the
develop-ment of atherosclerosis, which commonly leads to heart
attacks and strokes.
The study found that the ingestion of alcohol.
equivalent to two glasses of wine or three beers, with a high-fat
meal resulted in a 20% decrease in the growth of arterial muscle
cells. Researchers suggest these results could have a profound
effect on heart disease considering the amount of time
humans spend in the postprandial state during their
Other mechanisms may be at work. Several
researchers have suggested that the apparent health benefits of
wine ingested at mealtime may be due to the ability of alcohol
and other phenolic compounds in wine to counter adverse effects
of fatty foods during the critical digestive phase. Renaud has
written of the positive effect of wine during meals on platelet
aggregation , finding that wine consumed with meals is
absorbed more slowly, and thus has a prolonged effect on blood
platelets at a time when they are under the influence of
alimentary lipids known to increase their reactivity.
An Israeli study by Fuhrman et al, published in
the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that drinking
red wine with meals resulted in a 20% reduction in the LDL
(bad) cholesterol oxidation. A Dutch study, published
in the British Medical Journal, found that alcohol consumed with
a meal may prevent blood clotting triggered by fat.
Women Wine Drinkers Have Fewer Kidney Stones
A new study from Harvard University researcher
Gary Curhan and colleagues, using more than 81,000 women
participants drawn from the Nurses Health Study, found that
an increase in fluid intake significantly reduces risk for kidney
stones and that risk reduction was greatest for wine compared
with other beverages. Out of 17 beverages, including tea, coffee,
fruit juices, milk and water, wine was associated with the
highest reduction in risk - 59%.
Researchers noted: Intakes of caffeinated
and decaffeinated coffee, tea and wine were associated with
decreased risk. Curhan and colleagues reported similar
results for men and kidney stones in 1996. Wine consumption was
associated with highest risk reduction - 39%.
Moderate wine consumption cuts stroke risk
The moderate consumption of wine (but not beer
or spirits) is associated with a reduced risk of stroke,
according to a new report. The authors believe wines
protective effects may be linked to disease-fighting compounds
other than alcohol. Intake of wine is associated with lower
risk of stroke, concludes a 16-year Danish study led by Dr.
Thomas Truelsen of Copen-hagen University Hospital (Journal
of the American Heart Association, December, 1998).
Previous studies have suggested that moderate
wine consumption (a glass a day, for example) may provide
cardiovascular benefit. This phenomena is exemplified by what the
Danish team call the French paradox - a low
incidence of cardiovascular disease in the (wine-drinking) French
population despite an unfavorable exposure to known
cardiovascular factors (such as smoking). Investigating
further, the authors tracked the stroke incidence of over 13,300
Danes for 16 years.
They report that, compared with abstainers,
individuals who said they drank wine on a monthly, weekly, or
daily basis had a 16%, 34%, and 32% reduced risk of stroke,
respectively. The researchers found no association between
intake of beer or spirits on risk of stroke.
These findings suggest that other compounds in
wine besides alcohol may have a positive impact on cardiovascular
health. Wine contains flavonoids and tannins, the
authors explain, which are components presumed to prevent
cardiovascular disease. They speculate that drinking
patterns specific to wine lovers may also influence
cardiovascular health. Wine is more commonly consumed at
mealtimes than either beer or hard liquor, and these
differences in timing may be important,
according to the researchers. One recent study concluded that
mealtime alcohol consumption reduced unhealthy alterations in
blood composition that can occur after eating.
In a press release, the American Heart
Association does not recommend that individuals start
drinking to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke.
Experts point out that excessive drinking can actually raise the
likelihood of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption Protects Against Atherosclerosis
New Data from the Bruneck Study (Italy) was
reported by Australian and Italian researchers in the May 1998
issue of Stroke. They conclude that light to moderate alcohol
consumers faced a lower risk of atherosclerosis (early
atherogenesis) than either abstainers or heavy drinkers.
Arteriosclerosis, the gradual build-up of fatty deposits in the
arteries, is the leading contributor to coronary heart disease
and fatal heart attacks.
Notably, alcohol consumption during meals
offered advantages. Alcohol ingestion during meals tended
to offer more protection, probably due to a delayed absorption
and prolonged mode of action at a time when platelet reactivity
increases under the influence of alimentary lipids,
explained the researchers, led by Innsbruck Universitys
Stefan Kiechl, M.D.
Cohort Studies From Around the World Link Moderation to
In recent years dozens of cohort studies from
all over the world have associated moderate alcohol consumption
with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, decreased overall
mortality rates and other potentially improved health conditions.
This growing worldwide research consensus has resulted in certain
changes in the world view of alcohol during just the last few
years. In a significant departure form the past, major public
health organizations and governments around the world now
officially recognize that moderation can be part of a healthful
diet for those who choose to drink. The World Health
Organization, the United States government, the United
Kingdoms government and the American Heart Association are
among the health policy leaders that recently have issued
balanced alcohol statements expressing caution in terms of
alcohol abuse, but highlighting scientific findings that
associate cardiovascular benefits with moderate consumption.
In varying degrees, wine, beer and spirits have
been shown to confer certain health advantages for those who
consume in moderation. The most recent review study on the
subject of alcohol and longevity was by esteemed British
epidemiologist Richard Doll, M.D. In the British Medical Journal,
Doll concluded, The consumption of small and moderate
amounts of alcohol reduces mortality from vascular disease by
about a third. In his review, Doll looked over three dozen
studies published over the last decade. We will discuss some of
these cohort studies from around the world which are highlighted
in the table below.
and Wines Effects on Mortality - Findings From Around the
||New Zealand Cohort
Cardiovascular Benefits of Moderation
As early as 1980, the Honolulu Heart Study
reported that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a
50% reduction in the rate of coronary heart disease. Dozens of
studies around the world have since confirmed this for both men
and women. In the 1990s, large-scale studies including the
Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (over 44,000 men) and the
Nurses Health Study of over 85,000 women have convincingly
demonstrated reduced risks for heart disease. The data are so
clear on this issue that leading Harvard researchers included
moderate alcohol consumption as one of the best ways to cut heart
attack risk. In 1996, they credited one or two drinks of
beer, wine, or liquor per day to a reduction in risk
The latest research has also found associations
between moderation and other cardiovascular diseases. In early
1997, data was published showing that moderate alcohol con-sumers
reduced their risk for stroke, angina pectoris (a painful
precursor of heart attacks) and for peripheral artery disease, a
condition in which internal blood clots form in the extremities.
It was Dr. Arthur Klatsky of Kaiser Permanente
Hospital in California who first noted that the association
between consumption and heart disease resembled a U
with moderate con-sumers at the lowest risk in the curve, and
abstainers and abusers at higher risk. This U-shaped relationship
between alcohol intake and disease continues to be seen for both
cardiovascular and overall mortality studies. Moderate
consumption appears to be most advantageous.
Moderation and Reduced All-Cause Mortality
Some of the most respected population studies
find that consuming wine, beer or spirits in moderation has been
associated with an increased life expectancy. Researchers report
that although substantial decreases in mortality risk for
moderate drinkers can be attributed to reduced risk of heart
disease, this factor alone does not entirely account for their
favorable mortality profile. Moderate drinkers compared to
abstainers, both male and female, appear to be at lower risk for
all causes of death, including cancer and other chronic diseases,
while heavy drinkers increase their mortality risk. This U-shaped
relationship was seen in the Honolulu Heart study and
subsequently in an American Cancer Society Study which found that
subjects who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol (less than 3
drinks per day) were less likely to die during the research
period than either abstainers or heavy drinkers. Several studies
with similar findings have led the American Heart Association to
state in 1996, The lowest mortality occurs in those who
consume one or two drinks per day.
A 13-year follow-up of a British
Physicians Study found that the overall death rate for
12,000 male doctors in middle or old age who had an average of
one to two drinks per day of wine, beer, or spirits was at least
1/6 lower than that for abstainers. Investigators for the Danish
governments Copenhagen City Heart Study similarly analyzed
10-12 years of follow up data on 7234 women and 6051 men aged 30
to 79. A U-shaped curve emerged: consumers of 1-6 drinks per week
had the lowest risk for all causes of mortality. A 1997 Shanghai
Cohort Study, the first major Chinese study, examined 18,000 men
in Shanghai and found a 19% lower mortality rate for all causes
in moderate drinkers.
Nurses Health Study (1995) found a reduced overall
mortality rate for light-to-moderate drinkers among 85,000 women.
They concluded, For women as a group, light to moderate
alcohol consumption offers significant survival advantages. It
was associated with a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular
disease; heavier drinking was associated with an increased risk
of death from other causes, particularly breast cancer and
cirrhosis. Benefits were most pronounced for women with
risk factors for heart disease and those 50 years and older.
Other Harvard University cohort studies, the
Framingham Heart Study as well as the Kaiser Permanente Study
confirm overall mortality benefits for moderate drinkers. The
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the
largest government survey of Americans health and lifestyle
habits, reported that for white males, Moderate drinking
increases the time until death from any cause by about 3
At the same time, scientists point out that
more research is needed to provide a true risk/benefit analysis
for different gender and age groups that considers not only
coronary heart disease and overall mortality, but also various
types of cancer. In particular, some studies find a link between
alcohol consumption and breast cancer in women. However, most
researchers feel that the cardiovascular benefits of moderate
alcohol consumption far outweigh the breast cancer risks
(Cardiovascular disease is very common; breast cancer is rare in
Wine Phenolics and Disease Prevention
While some researchers believe that all
alcoholic beverages provide equal benefit, several scientists
believe wine offers benefits in addition to its ethyl alcohol
component. The beverage-specific data from the ongoing Copenhagen
City Heart Study reported that wine drinkers were least likely to
die from any cause during the 12-year study period. Our
finding, that only wine drinking clearly reduces both the risk of
dying from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and the
risk of dying from other causes, write researcher Morton
Gronbaek and colleagues, suggests that other more broadly
acting factors in wine may be present.
Research programs on other factors in wine has
resulted in several studies in the past few years on the
antioxidant and protective effects of wine compounds. Several
phenolic compounds in wine (such as quercetin, epicatechin and
resveratrol) inhibit platelet aggregation and act as antioxidants
to prevent the breakdown of LDL cholesterol into atherosclerotic
plaque. One in vitro study even found that these compounds were
more effective than vitamin E in inhibiting LDL oxidation. Since
1991 over three dozen studies have provided preliminary evidence
that wine phenolics have positive health effects. However, as
most of this research comes from animal studies, it has not yet
been demonstrated that this is applicable to humans.
Key recent cohort studies (Harvards
Physicians Health Study and the American Cancer
Societys Cancer Prevention Study II) found lower mortality
profiles for moderate drinkers. The ACS study was the largest on
alcohol consumption to date, with nearly half a million subjects,
finding all-cause mortality risk to be reduced by approximately
20% for both men and women who consumed one drink per day.
Several published reviews have pointed out that higher levels of
alcohol consumption can be detrimental to health in many ways.
However, as Finnish researcher Kari Poikolainen wrote in a 1995
review in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, The lowest
risk of death seems to be at the average intake level of one
drink per day.
Key studies throughout the 1990s (see
Table last month) associate approx. one drink per day with
increased longevity. In each study, all-cause mortality rates for
moderate drinking men and women, in diverse populations such as
the US, China and Australia, are significantly lower than rates
for non-drinkers. Based on a decade of research findings, Richard
Doll, M.D. (in the British Medical Journal) calls the evidence
for alcohols beneficial effect now massive. People
should told the facts. These still need to be defined in detail,
but in broad outline they are quite clear: In middle and old age,
some amount of alcohol within the range of one to four drinks
each day reduces the risk of premature death, irrespective of the
medium in which it is taken.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines advises moderation,
which is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and
no more than one drink per day for women. Forthcoming research
will continue to clarify the effects of moderate wine and alcohol
consumption in healthy diets and balanced lifestyles. It is hoped
that these findings will be reflected in worldwide nutrition
policies like the year 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Drinking Wine May Lower Risk for Upper Digestive Tract
Many research studies have associated alcohol
consumption with increased risk of upper digestive tract cancers.
But Morton Gronbaek and colleagues at the Institute for
Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen, Denmark, report just the
opposite. They speculate that previous studies did not analyze
data for specific types of beverages and/or did not distinguish
between use and abuse. Although they acknowledge that their
analysis may not be perfect, the Danish researchers tracked the
13-year incidence of mouth, throat and esophageal cancers among
28,000 Danes. They report that heavy drinkers experienced a
12-fold increase in upper digestive cancers compared with
abstainers. But among moderate drinkers, those who consumed at
least 30% of their alcohol intake in the form of wine were at
slightly lower risk than non-drinkers for these cancers. A
moderate intake of wine probably does not increase the risk of
upper digestive tract cancer. They speculate that compounds
found in wine, such as resveratrol, may exert powerful
anticarcinogenic effects that protect against any cancer-causing
effects of alcohol. Wine contains several components with
possible anticarcinogenic effects - these may exert their action
locally in parallel with the possible effect of ethanol.
New Research Developments of the Antioxidant Front
The Italian National Institute of Nutrition
(Rome) found that phenolic compounds in wine are absorbed in the
gastrointestinal tract and might be directly involved in
the in vivo antioxi-dant defenses. This study clearly
associated non-alcoholic components in wine with increased plasma
antioxidant capacity, which may lead to a reduced risk in
coronary heart disease.
A team of researchers from New York, Japan and
the University of Illinois reported prelim-inary evidence that
resveratrol (a compound found primarily in grapes and wine) may
inhibit cancer growth in humans.
Moderate Drinkers Benefits Begin in Early Adulthood
A new study from the UK, published in The
Lancet, has found that among young adults, moderate drinkers are
at a reduced risk of psychological distress, poor general health
and long-term illness compared to abstainers and heavy drinkers.
Dr. Chris Powers and associates studied 9,605 men and women at
age 23 with a follow-up at 33. They found that men drinking
between 11-35 units of alcohol and women drinking between 6-20
units of alcohol per week experienced fewer health-related
problems than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers. One unit of alcohol
was the equivalent to a half pint of beer, one measure of spirits
or one glass of wine.
Dr. Powers is from the Institute of Child
Health (London) and the co-authors are from the Australian
National University (Canberra). They hope to continue the
research with the same subjects in order to see how they progress
with age. This is one of the first studies to look at the effects
of alcohol consumption in early adulthood and its long-term
effects on health.
The information in this article is for educational purposes
only. Wine should be enjoyed in a responsible manner as part of a
well balanced lifestyle by healthy adults who choose to drink.
If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, with
meals, and when consumption does not put you or others at
risk ~ Advice for Today, 1995 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for
Americans. Meanwhile, the research on the health
benefits of wine continues!
Updates on Wine and Health
Wine linked with lower lung cancer risk
NEW YORK, Mar 01, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- Male wine drinkers
may have a lower risk of lung cancer than those who drink beer or spirits. Dr.
Eva Prescott and colleagues at Copenhagen University Hospital examined data from
three Danish studies involving more than 28,000 adults. Overall, they found no
association between low to moderate alcohol intake and lung cancer risk. When
the analysis was limited to men, they observed that those who drank wine had a
lower risk of lung cancer than those who did not drink wine. But the data also
suggested an increased risk of lung cancer in men who drank beer or spirits. For
example, men who reported drinking 1 to 13 glasses of wine per week had a 22%
lower risk of lung cancer compared with drinkers of other types of alcohol. Men
who consumed more than 13 glasses of wine per week had a 56% lower risk than
other alcohol drinkers. The researchers suggest that the seemingly protective
effect “may be related to the antioxidant properties of wine, and deserves
further attention.” SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology 1999;149:463-470.
Light-to-moderate alcohol intake may prevent stroke
NEW YORK, Nov 17, 1999 (Reuters Health) -- People who consume
as little as one alcoholic drink per day significantly reduce their risk of
stroke, but drinking more does not increase the benefit, results of a study
suggest. Previous studies have shown that “drinking moderate amounts of
alcohol may have protective effects against subtypes of stroke,” according to
Dr. Klaus Berger, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts,
The researchers analyzed the medical records of more than
22,000 male doctors aged 40 - 84. Over 12 years, 679 men experienced first
strokes. Most of the strokes were caused by interruptions of the brain’s blood
supply (ischemic strokes), while fewer than 15% were caused by brain bleeding
(hemorrhagic strokes). Compared with other participants, the group of men who
consumed at least one drink per week had a 21% lower risk of having any type of
The same group had a 23% lower risk of ischemic stroke, the
scientists calculated. Drinking had neither a positive nor a negative effect on
the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. After Berger and his colleagues accounted for
other risk factors, they found that “the largest risk reductions were found
among the men who had one to four drinks per week.” Blood pressure and
exercise affected the impact of drinking on stroke risk, according to the
investigators. Alcohol consumption benefited men whose blood pressure was 140 or
higher or who exercised at least once a week. The authors conclude that
“light-to-moderate consumption of alcohol (one to seven drinks per week)
reduced the risks of total stroke and ischemic stroke.” SOURCE: The New
England Journal of Medicine 1999;341:1557-1564, 1605-1606.
Red wine without the alcohol good for the heart
NEW YORK, Jan 03, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- It may not please
wine connoisseurs, but red wine without the alcohol is also good for the heart,
researchers report. Dr. Jennifer R.C. Bell and colleagues at the University of
California, Davis, report the results of their study, in which they took a 1996
Cabernet Sauvignon and removed the alcohol. They then asked 5 men and 4 women --
all healthy -- to drink about a 1/2 cup of the wine, with water added on one day
and water and ethanol added on the other. The investigators measured levels of
the flavonoid “(+)-catechin” -- the wine component credited with heart
benefits -- after consumption.
The researchers collected blood at baseline and then 30
minutes, 1, 2 3, 4 and 8 hours after consumption. They found that the half-life
of (+)-catechin was significantly shorter (3.17 hours) when subjects drank
alcoholic red wine than when they drank the dealcoholized version (4.08 hours).
Bell and colleagues report that increases in total (+)-catechin in plasma were
similar after ingestion of alcoholic and nonalcoholic red wine and that gender
had no effect.
But moderate amounts of alcohol also make a contribution to
heart health. Previous research shows that alcohol by itself increases
concentration of HDL -- “the good cholesterol” -- in the blood, the
researchers note. “The results (of this study)... suggest that red wine
provides two independent factors capable of contributing to vascular health when
consumed in moderation,” the investigators write, namely the HDL-boosting
effects of alcohol and the increase of flavonoids in the blood. SOURCE: American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000;71:103-108.
One drink is good, more than two isn't
NEW YORK, Jan 03, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- Consumption of one
alcoholic drink per day appears to reduce the risk of heart disease in
middle-aged men, but more than two drinks each day may offset these benefits by
increasing the risk of some cancers, researchers report. “Our observational
research shows that there seems to be benefit of light to moderate alcohol
consumption,” Dr. J. Michael Gaziano told Reuters Health. “However, people
shouldn’t drink instead of doing other preventive activities such as stopping
smoking, controlling cholesterol and exercising.” And the data from US
physicians participating in the Physicians’ Health Study show that excess
consumption will cancel the benefits of moderate consumption, by increasing the
risk of some of the less common cancers.
Any recommendation on alcohol consumption should be
individualized through discussions with a physician, according to Gaziano of the
Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston,
Massachusetts. People with liver disease or a history of alcohol abuse should
not drink at all, while those with diabetes and hypertension may partake in
light alcohol consumption, Gaziano said.
Gaziano and colleagues analyzed self-reported alcohol
consumption of 89,299 male physicians between the ages of 40 and 84 years with
no prior medical history of heart attack, stroke, cancer or liver disease. Their
findings are reported in the January issue of the Journal of the American
College of Cardiology. After an average of more than 5 years of follow-up the
data revealed that, “light to moderate drinking -- perhaps one per day --
shows benefits in reducing risk of heart disease with no increased risk of
cancer,” Gaziano said. SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology
Moderate drinking lowers diabetes risk in men
NEW YORK, Jan 06, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- Men who are
‘moderate’ drinkers -- between 5 to 10 drinks per week -- have a lower risk
for adult-onset diabetes than either abstainers or heavy drinkers, researchers
report. “Men with a high alcohol intake may be able to reduce their risk of
developing type 2 diabetes if they drink less,” report Dr. Ming Wei and
colleagues at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas.
As reported previously by Reuters Health, numerous studies
have suggested that having a drink or two per day appears to have a protective
effect against cardiovascular disease. In their study, Wei’s team examined
rates of type 2 diabetes -- the adult-onset form of the disease affecting 95% of
all diabetics -- in over 8,600 Texan men. They found that diabetes risks were
lowest in men who drank between 5 and 10 drinks per week, compared with either
abstain-ers/infrequent drinkers (0 to 5 drinks per week) or heavy drinkers (10
to 22 drinks or above). In fact, infrequent or heavy drinkers faced twice the
risk of type 2 diabetes of moderate drinkers!
Wei told Reuters Health that, according to previous studies,
moderate drinking “reduces insulin resistance,” while heavy alcohol
consumption “increases insulin resistance.” Insulin resistance -- in which
the body gradually stops responding to the sugar hoarding effect of the hormone
insulin -- is thought to precede full-blown type 2 diabetes. Based on their
findings, the authors estimate that “24% of the incident cases of diabetes in
(adult men) might be attributable to high alcohol intake.” While they do not
recommend that abstainers take up drinking to lower their diabetes risk, they do
urge that heavy drinkers cut back in order to lower their risk. SOURCE: Diabetes
Why Red Wine Does a Heart Good
By Suzanne Rostler
(Reuters Health) - UK researchers have zeroed in on compounds in red wine that
battle a protein linked to heart disease--a finding that provides clues to why
the French have relatively low rates of heart disease despite a national diet
rich in creamy cheese and buttery desserts. The investigators found that
polyphenols--compounds in grape skins and present in red wine--decrease the
production of a protein that causes blood vessels to constrict and reduces the
flow of oxygen to the heart. The protein, endothelin-1, is believed to play a
key role in the development of heart disease, explain Dr. Roger Corder and
colleagues from Queen Mary University of London.
Their findings support the results of earlier studies showing that a moderate
intake of red wine may lower the risk of heart disease. But while these studies
focused on the antioxidant properties of polyphenols--their ability to quench
disease-causing free radicals in the body--the results of the new study suggest
a new mechanism by which red wine might bring benefits. According to the report
in the December 20/27th issue of Nature, red wine polyphenols inhibit protein
tyrosine kinases, a group of enzymes that play a key role in cell regulation.
Compounds that inhibit these enzymes have been shown to suppress endothelin
production, Corder told Reuters Health.
“We believe that red wines contain specific polyphenols that inhibit protein
tyrosine kinases, and that this effect leads to suppression of endothelin
synthesis,” he said in an interview. “The effects we describe are completely
unrelated to any antioxidant properties of polyphenols.'”
White wine is made without the use of grape skins, while red wine is made by
fermenting the juice from grapes along with the skins. Grape skin provides red
wine with its color, and also contains the highest concentration of polyphenols.
Other alcoholic beverages do not contain these compounds. “Consumption of one
to two glasses of red wine per day with food might be considered part of a diet
to reduce heart disease, provided there are no health grounds for avoiding
alcohol, and that the person is not going to drive or operate equipment,”
Corder said. The study findings are based on experiments with cow artery cells
treated with alcohol-free extracts of various red, white and rose wines. The
researchers also tried an extract of red grape juice, which inhibited endothelin
production, but much less so than red wine did.
SOURCE: Nature 2001;414:863-864.
Updates on Wine, Alcohol, and Health
Moderate Drinking May
Cut Women's Risk of Diabetes
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New research suggests that drinking moderate amounts
of alcohol may help prevent healthy postmenopausal women from developing
diabetes as well as heart disease. According to the report, women who consumed
one to two drinks a day were better able to respond to insulin, a hormone that
helps cells use sugar for energy. These women also had lower levels of insulin
in their blood. High blood levels of insulin, as well as decreased insulin
sensitivity, are risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
In the study, 51 healthy, postmenopausal women rotated among three 8-week
treatment periods in which they consumed either no alcohol, one drink a day, or
two drinks daily, in addition to a diet to maintain their body weight. Blood
samples drawn from the women revealed that insulin levels were nearly 20% lower
after consuming two drinks compared to women consuming no alcohol. Levels of
triglycerides, a type of fat associated with increased risk of heart disease,
were about 10% lower in the two-drink-a-day group compared with the no-alcohol
group. Insulin sensitivity rose by roughly 7% after two drinks. There was no
effect on blood glucose.
The researchers attributed the findings to the effects of alcohol, but note that
other compounds in red wine may provide additional protection. Whatever the
beneficial component in alcohol may be, the findings are consistent with
previous reports that have observed improved insulin sensitivity among
nondiabetic adults who drink moderately.
SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287:2559 (5/15/02)
Moderate Drinking May Cut Dementia Risk -Study
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinking may reduce an older person’s
risk of developing dementia, a new study suggests. Researchers in the
Netherlands found that among the 5,400 older adults they studied, those who had
up to three drinks a day were less likely than non-drinkers to develop any type
of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. And it did not matter whether the
alcohol was wine, beer, liquor, or a fortified wine such as sherry. However, the
relatively few who said they had four or more drinks in a day saw no such
Past research has suggested that a drink or two a day might help ward off the
mental decline associated with age. Since evidence also shows light-to-moderate
drinking may benefit the heart, investigators speculated that alcohol might
similarly help maintain blood flow to the brain by reducing clotting or
improving cholesterol levels. Another possibility is that alcohol directly
affects mental functioning through the release of the neurotransmitter
acetylcholine. Substantial evidence indicates that ACH affects learning and
memory. Low levels of alcohol stimulate the chemical’s release in humans,
while higher alcohol levels inhibit it in studies with rats.
In the study, mentally healthy men and women aged 55 and older were followed for
an average of 6 years. During the study, 197 participants developed dementia,
most often Alzheimer's disease. Those who had said they drank one to three
alcoholic beverages a day were 42% less likely to develop any type of dementia,
regardless of the other health factors. They were 70% less likely than
non-drinkers to be diagnosed with vascular dementia, an impairment caused by
significant reductions in the brain’s blood supply.
In addition, a couple of drinks per day showed a protective effect among people
who carried the gene variant ApoE4, which is associated with an increased
Alzheimer’s risk. The researchers speculated that alcohol, possibly through
improving cholesterol levels, might moderate dementia risk among ApoE4 carriers.
SOURCE: The Lancet 2002;359:281-286 (1/26/02)
Red Wine May Keep Prostate Cancer Cells in Check
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Compounds in red wine may keep prostate cancer cells
from proliferating, results of a preliminary laboratory study suggest.
Researchers from Spain found five different polyphenols, antioxidants found in
red wine, tea, and certain fruits and vegetables, inhibited the growth of
prostate cancer cells in a test tube and encouraged cancer cells to “commit
suicide,” a natural process called apoptosis.
The findings, if confirmed by larger studies, may help to explain the higher
rates of prostate cancer in the US and non-Mediterranean European countries. The
rate of prostate cancer in Mediterranean countries, where intake of red wine and
other polyphenol-containing foods is high, tends to be lower. The Mediterranean
diet is considered to be protective against the endocrine cancers (including
prostate cancer), and features a low animal-fat and meat content, with a high
intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, and wine.
The study examined the effect of five polyphenols found in red wine--gallic
acid, tannic acid, morin, quercetin and rutin--on prostate cancer cells. The
researchers added varying amounts of these compounds to a dish containing
prostate cancer cells. All five compounds inhibited cell proliferation and
promoted apoptosis. The results point to a need for studies investigating the
effects of these compounds in humans with the potential goal of developing
recommendations for use in cancer prevention. Prostate cancer is the
second-deadliest form of cancer for US men, after lung cancer, according to the
American Cancer Society.
SOURCE: BJU International 2002;89:950-954.
Light Drinking May Help Keep Leg Arteries Clear
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinkers may be less likely to develop
blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the legs. In a study of almost
4,000 people over 55, Dutch researchers found that all women and non-smoking men
who reported having 1 or 2 drinks a day were less likely than nondrinkers to
have peripheral arterial disease (PAD). These results complement previous
research that suggests light drinking can reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
The strongest effect was noted in non-smoking women who were 59% less likely to
have PAD than teetotalers. PAD occurs when arteries in the legs become blocked
by a buildup of fatty material, a process known as atherosclerosis. PAD can lead
to leg cramps when walking. Atherosclerosis in general can bring on stroke and
heart attacks. Alcohol may slow atherosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of
cholesterol, which prevents it from accumulating inside arteries. Since
atherosclerosis can lead to other cardiovascular problems, reducing this process
may be the means by which light drinking promotes heart and blood vessel health
in general. The benefits of alcohol may stem primarily from red wine. This could
explain the stronger effect seen in women, since women tended to choose wine,
whereas almost half of men liked beer best.
SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology 2002;155:332-338.
Alcohol May Benefit Heart Attack Patients
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinking has been linked with a lower risk
of a heart attack. Two new studies show that a drink a day may promote survival
in patients after a heart attack, as well as help the elderly avoid heart
failure. The researchers of both reports found that any type of alcohol had
potentially healthy effects when consumed in moderation. Alcohol has been shown
to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and prevent blood clots from forming.
One study of more than 1,900 adults who had been hospitalized for heart attack
found that patients who consumed seven drinks a week in the year before their
heart attack had a 32% lower risk of dying compared with teetotalers. And those
who consumed less than seven drinks a week lowered their risk of dying by 21%
over nearly 4 years, compared with patients who abstained from drinking. The
findings suggest that alcohol consumption is probably safe after a heart attack
for moderate drinkers. Patients who abstain from alcohol may need more
aggressive treatment with drugs such as aspirin, beta-blockers, and
Another study found that elderly people who drank at least 1.5 drinks per day
had a risk of heart failure 47% lower than abstainers, regardless of age, race,
blood pressure, history of diabetes, smoking, and other factors. The study
included 2,200 adults averaging 74 years of age.
SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association 2001;285:1965-1977.
Moderate Drinking Helps Preserve Women’s Mental Functioning
TORONTO (Reuters Health) - Consuming less than one alcoholic drink per day may
help preserve the mental function of older women. Between 1995 and 1999, 9,072
women in the Nurses’ Health Study, aged 70 to 79, were interviewed. Mental
function was assessed using seven different tests. Information about their
alcohol use had been collected at the beginning of the study in 1980, and was
updated through 1994. After adjusting for other factors that could affect mental
function, the researchers found that the women who drank moderately had better
average scores on five of the seven tests and on a score that combined all seven
tests. The effect seen on cognitive function was the equivalent of being 1 or 2
SOURCE: Presentation by Dr. Meir Stampfer (Professor of Epidemiology and
Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health) at the 2001 Congress of
Sheds Light on Wine’s Benefits
found in food and wine may help to extend life)
- In a research paper, Harvard scientists announced they have found a new class
of chemicals that may extend life. The research is preliminary, but what makes
it interesting is the chemicals can be found in some red wine.
Researchers have known for years that cutting calories can prolong life
in everything from yeast cells to mammals. But an easier way to live longer may
be as simple as turning a corkscrew. Molecules found in red wine, peanuts, and
other products of the plant world have for the first time been shown to mimic
the life-extending effects of calorie restriction. This could help researchers
develop drugs that lengthen life and prevent or treat aging-related diseases.
One of the molecules, resveratrol,
was shown in a study to extend the life span of yeast cells by up to 80 percent.
Resveratrol exists naturally in grapes and red wine.
David Sinclair, an assistant professor of pathology at Harvard Medical
School and co-author of the study, said he and his fellow researchers hope the
molecules will prove to prolong life not just in yeast but in multi-cellular
organisms like worms, fruit flies, and perhaps humans. Sinclair, whose study
appears in the journal Nature, said tests on worms and flies were already
yielding “encouraging” results. Similar trials are already being planned on
OVER RED WINE
Sinclair said he has become more
“enthusiastic” about the purported health benefits of red wine since his
research began, and that experts who have reviewed his findings have had a
similar response. “Not many people know about it yet, but those who do have
almost invariably changed their drinking habits; that is, they drink more red
wine,” he said.
The molecules that were shown to extend life in yeast belong to a family
of compounds known as polyphenols. These include resveratrol, which is already thought to
make red wine healthy in moderate amounts. Sinclair said the latest study may
help explain why moderate consumption of red wine has been linked to lower
incidence of heart disease and why resveratrol prevents cancer in
mice.“We’re connecting many dots with this study,” he said.
Scientists have known for decades that putting organisms on a
calorie-restricted diet dramatically reduces the incidence of age-related
illnesses such as cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease. In the 1990s,
research showed that single genes can control how fast organisms age. Because of
that, scientists have been racing to find ways of manipulating those genes.
Sinclair and his team have been looking for what he calls the Holy Grail
of aging research: molecules that activate the enzymes that in turn influence
the genes that regulate aging. Now, they say, they have found those molecules.
Sinclair’s team partnered with BIOMOL, a Pennsylvania company, to
screen thousands of molecules to see which ones might activate the enzymes. Not
only did they find a group of 18 molecules that fit the bill — resveratrol
being just one — but all of them came from plants and were produced in
response to harsh environmental conditions like drought.
“We think we know why these plants make these molecules. We think
it’s part of their own defense response, and we also believe that animals and
fungi that live on the plants can pick up on these clues,” he said.
To illustrate that theory, Sinclair noted that red wines from regions
with harsher growing conditions — Spain, Chile, northern France, Argentina,
and Australia — contain more resveratrol than those produced where grapes are
not highly stressed or dehydrated.
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