Wine: nature's remedy

Thursday, 8 November, 2012
Dave March, CWM
The abuse of alcohol, and it seems alcohol itself, is under attack. Government legislation to reduce the access to alcohol and levels of drink-driving, advertising restrictions, tax increases, links to crime and anti-social behaviour and a powerful health promotion lobby have made consuming alcohol a dangerous choice.
The abuse of alcohol is undoubtedly of huge social – and individual – concern.  Alcohol abuse is at the root of many social problems and destroys lives as well as usurping resources.  

It annoys me, though, that in conversations about the negative effects of alcohol, wine is lumped in with beer, Whisky, Brandy, Gin, Vodka, Rum and the new cocktail destroyers of youth; RTD’s.  I consider wine to be the least dangerous of that crowd. And I am not alone in this; a 29 year long study in Finland found that male wine drinkers had healthier hearts than beer or spirits drinkers with similar consumption. I’m not saying that there aren’t those whose lives haven’t suffered through abuse of alcohol via wine, that there aren’t those, of both sexes and all income groups, who haven’t suffered terribly by drinking excess wine. I do believe, though, that casualty departments, renal clinics, magistrate’s courts and morgues will see fewer who have succumbed to years of Sauvignon Blanc excess than beer or spirits excess.

In defence of wine I would point to two things. Firstly, its contribution to State coffers. With only 15% of the total market of alcoholic consumption (beer has 46%) wine contributes more than R3.8bn to the State via Duties and taxes and R26bn as an industry as a whole – some 2.2% of GDP, as well as employing more than 275 000 people, many of whom are unskilled. Consider also businesses which are supported by the industry, such as printers, publishers, couriers, packaging and bottle manufacturers, PR companies, accountants, exporters, advertisers, equipment manufacturers, nurseries, chemical companies, retailers, banks and many more. 

These may not be unique to wine, but my second defence definitely is; wine is good for you, and yes, red has more benefits than white. Thousands of research articles seem to conclude that – in moderation (and the whole of my following argument rests on that premise) wine has qualities which other alcohol carriers don’t. 

At the risk of covering old ground let me remind you of the good news, all of which assumes that you are not pregnant, though researchers have found that moderate wine consumption during pregnancy lessens the chance of babies being born with behavioural problems (1) andassuming you are consuming no more than 30cl (a third of a bottle) a day (2).

It all began in 1991, when French researchers found that, despitesimilar diets rich in saturated fats the French suffered less coronary heart disease than expected, some 50% less than the USA; the ‘French Paradox’; the reason was felt to be levels of wine consumption.

Since then the evidence has been plentiful. Those who consume wine regularly live an average of   2 ½ years longer than teetotallers (3). Wine reduces the risk of stroke (4) and of heart disease by up to half (5). Buchanan found that wine drinkers reduced the risk of Angina in the year following a heart attack by 45%. Studying nearly 1 200 men without liver disease, Suzuki, et al., found over five years that those who drank moderately had less evidence of liver damage than those who did not drink at all or who drank minimally (6). Copious evidence has linked wine drinking to lowering the risk of certain cancers. The antioxidant Resveratrol exhibits therapeutic potential for cancer prevention as well as cardioprotection.US research has shown wine’s protective effect against lung cancer (7), bowel cancer, colon cancer, prostrate cancer (8) and breast cancer. One study suggests the risk of contracting Oesophageal cancer is cut by more than 50% if you drink wine (9).

Resveratrol may aid in the prevention of age-related disorders, such as neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and increases mental agility (by increasing the flow of blood to the brain). Resveratrol has been shown to extend the life of yeasts and fruit flies by up to 70%; in vitro tests are applying that to humans (10), can you imagine being 136 years old? ‘The breadth of benefits is remarkable – cancer prevention, protection of the heart and brain from damage, reducing age-related diseases such as inflammation, reversing diabetes and obesity, and many more’, says Professor Lindsay Brown, of the School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Queensland (11). A Spanish study found that one or two glasses of wine per day lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (12) and another found that wine kills chemicals released in the stomach linked to Parkinson’s Disease. Wine may even reduce the risk of dementure (13), a study in Italy found one drink per day slowed its onset by 85%. The diuretic effect of wine reduces water retention and minimises joint swelling for those with arthritis (14). Wine stimulates gastric juices and fosters a healthy appetite, releasing bile to aid digestion (15) and reduces the risk of gall stones by a third (16). Wine’s suppressant effect can help those with insomnia without the agitative effects of other alcohols (17).

And not only that, it tastes nice.

Of course there are counter arguments, debates over ‘moderate consumption’ and lots of caveats to each of these claims, it may be just that people who drink wine tend to lead healthier lifestyles and that explains the increased resistance etcetera. Personally, I don’t mind which it is; it’s a win-win situation.

The references – and there are hundreds more - are to show that I am not making this up and to provide you with some light reading while you sup your Shiraz.

1.  Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. London October 2010
2. Jackson Ron S, ‘Wine Science’  Academic Press 2000, p592
3. Rimm et al  British Medical Journal 312, 1996 p731-736
4. Camargo CA Jr. Moderate alcohol consumption and stroke: the epidemiologic evidence. Stroke.1989; 29:1611–1626.
6.  American Journal of Gastroenterol2007
7. American Journal of Epidemiology 1999 no 149, p463
8. BJU International 2002, 89  p950-954
9.  Gastroenterology Magazine, March 2009
10. David Sinclair, Harvard Medical School 2003
11. Brown L   ‘Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research’ September 2009 Australia
12. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Univ. of Valencia May 2010
13. The Lancet 2002 No 359 p281-286
14. Jackson R Ibid p594
15. McArthur,Hogan& Isenberg ‘Gastroenterology 83’ 1982, p199-203
16. Dr A Hart, Univ of East Anglia UK May 2009
17. KastenbaumR  ‘Wine and the elderly person’ 1982 GRT Books, p87-95
Nature's remedy.
Nature's remedy.

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