The Tale of Two Drinkers

Is a glass of wine good for health? Or is it better to abstain? A discussion on the Goan drinking habit elicited this information. “People have no knowledge of wine”, says a manager of a restaurant. “I can tell you,” says he, “that although the market is flooded with different companies proclaiming the benefits of wine over spirits, the local people are not comfortable with the idea of having wine. They still prefer to have their usual shot of spirit or abstain.”

Does wine have any health benefits? I decided to do a check on health benefits of wine. History has recognised the healthful properties of wine for thousands of years. Hippocrates recommended wines to purge fever, and disinfect wounds, around 450 BC. A French doctor wrote the earliest known printed book on wine around 1410 AD.

Most of the pathogens that threaten humans are inhibited or killed by the acids and alcohols in wine. Because of this wine was considered to be a safer drink than much of the available water up until the 18th century.

Wine is considered to be a mild natural tranquilliser, serving to reduce anxiety and tension. As part of a normal diet, wine provides the body with energy, with substances that aid digestion, and with small amounts of minerals and vitamins. It can also stimulate the appetite. In addition, wine serves to restore nutritional balance, relieve tension, sedate and act as a mild euphoric agent to the convalescent and especially the aged. If you do not believe me, read on:

Now we all know that the French love their wine. In 1991 the television news magazine “60 Minutes” reported the phenomenon that has come to be known as the French Paradox. Typically, the diet of people in Southern France includes a very high proportion of cheese, butter, eggs, organic meats, and other fatty and cholesterol-laden foods. This diet would seem to promote heart disease but the rate there was discovered to be much lower than in America. Hence, popular thinking of wine as medicine rather than toxin began to return.

Moderate consumption of red wine on a regular basis may be a preventative against coronary disease and some forms of cancer. The chemical components thought to be responsible are catechins also known as flavonoid. Catechins are believed to function as anti-oxidants preventing molecules known as “free-radicals” from doing cellular damage. One particular form of flavonoid, called oligomeric procyanidin, recently proved to prevent hardening of the arteries.
A Harvard study on factors that influence aging, reported in the May 8, 2003, issue of the journal Nature, has shown that resveratrol in wine extends the life span of yeast cells by 80 per cent.

Wine might even preserve cognitive function in the elderly. Several European studies have shown the effects of regular light to moderate alcohol consumption may include the prevention or postponement of Alzheimer, Parkinson and other forms of dementia. Could wine be the original brain food?

The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a 14-year study of over 100,000 women, aged 25 to 42. The health study required participants to complete a questionnaire every two years, detailing lifestyle choices and diagnoses of any medical conditions. The subjects were categorised into three levels of alcohol consumption. After factoring in such variables as family histories of diabetes and smoking habits, the study found that women who drank regularly and moderately (one or two drinks per day, a total of 15 to 30 grams of alcohol) had a 58 per cent lower likelihood of developing diabetes. But those who drank spirits and consumed more than 30 grams per day had a 150 per cent higher risk to develop diabetes than even non-drinkers.
The keys to the beneficial aspects of wine drinking are regularity and moderation. However, overindulgence can be considerably more harmful than total abstinence. Now even in terms of regularity and moderation there lies a tale. Studies in England and Denmark found the occurrence of coronary disease to be much higher in heavy or binge drinkers and (surprise!) even higher in abstainers. It is very important to note that Europeans generally drink wine and water with their meals, while Americans drink milk, iced tea, soft drinks, or coffee.

So just like the apple – a glass of wine a day, will help keep the doctor away.