Wine & Health
... benefits are not without cautions ...

The medical profession has recognized the healthful and nutritive properties of wine for thousands of years. Hippocrates recommended specific wines to purge fever, disinfect and dress wounds, as diuretics, or for nutritional supplements, around 450 B.C. A French doctor wrote the earliest known printed book about wine around 1410 A.D.

Most of the pathogens that threaten humans are inhibited or killed off 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 a mild natural tranquilizer, 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.

Although wine may be the oldest remedy and prophylactic still in use, there was an entire generation of medical professionals, especially in America , that obtained their medical education during the historical period known as Prohibition. Medical texts for nearly twenty-five years were purged and censored of any mention of alcohol, including wine, for any application other than external. This medical generation became educators to the following one, perpetuating medical ignorance of the potential health benefits of wine.

In the 1970s, the National Institute of Health excluded and suppressed evidence from the Framingham Heart Study that showed moderate drinkers had 50 per cent fewer deaths from coronary disease than non-drinkers.

Only when the television news magazine "60 Minutes" reported in November, 1991, the phenomenon that has come to be known as the French Paradox did popular thinking of wine as medicine rather than toxin begin to return. Typically, the diet of people in Southern France includes a very high proportion of cheese, butter, eggs, organ 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 ; herein lies the paradox.

Regularmoderate wine drinking was discovered to be one prominent factor. 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. (See " R X for Society: Wine and Water ")

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 flavanoids. Catechins are believed to function as anti-oxidants, preventing molecules known as "free-radicals" from doing cellular damage. There are also compounds in grapes and wine (especially red wine, grape juice, dark beers and tea, but absent in white wine, light beers and spirits) called resveratrol and quercetin. Clinical and statistical evidence and laboratory studies have shown these to boost the immune system, block cancer formation, and possibly protect against heart disease and even prolong life.

A Harvard study of factors that influence aging, as reported in the May 8, 2003 , issue of the journal Nature, has shown that resveratrol extends the life span of yeast cells by 80%. Preliminary results of tests on multi cellular animals are said to be encouraging; study co-author David Sinclair told Reuters News Agency that "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."

Another recent study, published in the 2004 year-end edition of the American Journal of Physiology, indicates that resveratrol also inhibits formation of a protein that produces a condition called cardio fibrosis, which reduces the heart's pumping efficiency when it is needed most, at times of stress.

More evidence suggests that wine dilates the small blood vessels and helps to prevent angina and clotting. The alcohol in wine additionally helps balance cholesterol towards the good type. Wine might even preserve cognitive function in the elderly. Several European studies have shown the prophylactic effects of regular light to moderate alcohol consumption may include the prevention or postponement of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other forms of dementia. Could wine be the original brain food?

A study published in January, 2003, in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that moderate, regular drinkers of wine or beer decreases the risk of peptic ulcers and may help to rid the body of the bacteria suspected of causing them. Both over consumption, especially of beer, and any regular consumption of spirits at even a low level, increased the risk.

The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a 14-year study of over 100,000 women, aged 25 to 42, from 14 states. The Nurses Health Study required participants to complete a questionnaire every two years, detailing lifestyle choices and diagnoses of any medical conditions. The subjects were categorized 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% lower likelihood of developing diabetes. Both those levels that drank more or that drank less had a 20% lower risk than either abstainers or former drinkers. When preferences for types of alcohol were compared, those who chose beer and wine shared similar levels of risk, but those in who drank spirits and consumed more than 30 grams per day had a 150% higher risk to develop diabetes than even non-drinkers.

Other medical studies point to multiple benefits of regular moderate wine drinking that may include lowered risks of stroke, colorectal tumors, skin and other types of cancers, senile dementia, and even the common cold, as well as reduce the effects of scarring from radiation treatments.

Over 400 studies worldwide, many of them long-term and in large populations, have concluded that most healthy people who drink wine regularly and moderately live longer. The single group exception, whose members should not consume any alcohol, is pre-menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer. The keys to the beneficial aspects are regularity and moderation. Overindulgence can be considerably more harmful than total abstinence.

Nutritional contents of wine are minimal. There is no fat, cholesterol, or dietary fiber in any wine. On the other hand, only with overindulgence would anyone reach their Minimum Daily Requirement for calories, carbohydrates, sodium, protein, vitamins or minerals, all of which all wines contain to some degree. The specific content varies between types, depending upon color, alcoholic strength and residual sugar. Note the Single Serving Size when comparing data in this table.

Dry Red **12.5%
Dry White *12.5%
*Sweet Dessert
6 ounces
6 oz.
8.5 milligrams
* based upon a wine with a residual sugar content of 8% (higher sugar increases carbs)
** higher alcohol increases calories
*** wines that are unfined and unfiltered may be somewhat higher in protein
Wine vitamin content is expressed here as a percentage of Estimated Dialy Requirements, based on a 2000 calorie diet

VITAMIN B1 (Thiamin)
VITAMIN B2 (Riboflavin)
VITAMIN B3 (Niacin)
Wines also contain trace amounts of other vitamins and minerals, but at such low level that they are insignificant for dietary consideration.

The official recommendation in the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Fourth Edition, published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is "Advice for today: if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, with meals, and when consumption does not put you or others at risk." This is a rather weak and passive permission, rather than the ringing endorsement moderate wine consumption deserves, according to the vast majority of medical and scientific evidence. It is, however, a progressive leap from the 1990 Guidelines, which said, "wine has no net health benefit", which is the contemporary scientific equivalent of saying "the earth is flat".

On the other hand, wine is not a cure-all and not everyone should drink wine. There are also circumstances when no one should drink any alcohol. When combined with certain prescription drugs, for example, alcohol in any form can produce an adverse reaction. Wine should not be given to people with inflammations of the digestive tract, peptic ulcers, liver disease, pancreatitis, kidney or urinary infections, prostate disorders, epilepsy, or alcoholism. As previously mentioned, pre-menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer should abstain from drinking any alcohol, including wine.

Sulfites exist in nature and are also added to preserve many common foods, including wine. About 1% of the general population and about 5% of asthma sufferers may react to sulfites. Symptoms often include restricted breathing ability or nausea. However, this is a relatively rare occurrence which depends on both the sensitivity of the individual and the level of sulfites in the food. The human body actually produces about 1 gram of sulfites daily through normal metabolism.

Foods may legally contain sulfites at levels ranging from 6 to 6,000 parts per million. The legal maximum for wine is 350 ppm, but the average content in premium wine is under 40 ppm. White wines are generally higher in sulfites than red wines. Inexpensive wines generally have higher sulfur content than expensive wines. There are no wines that are entirely sulfite-free, even those labeled "organic".

The best advice is to waste no time thinking about sulfites, unless your personal physician has warned you against them. For a more complete discussion, visit our article on Understanding Wine Labels.

Headaches, affecting some people during or after consuming wine, may result from individual reactions to one or more of wines' natural compounds. Red wine is suspected by some sufferers to trigger migraine headaches. Phenolic flavanoids (the same ones that provide anti-oxidant benefits) are a component in grape skins related to tannins and which clinical evidence has shown to be the culprits. Red wine has a much higher content than white wine of both tannins and flavanoids.

Chemicals called amines either dilate (histamines) or constrict (tyramines) blood vessels in the brain, either of which may cause headaches in a small percentage of the populace sensitive enough to be affected. Aged and fermented foods such as cheese, sauerkraut, salami, and sourdough bread are high in histamines. Although both red and white wines contain histamines, reds generally have higher content, especially low-acid reds made from grapes grown in warmer areas. Chocolate, vanilla, beans, nuts, bananas, cultured products like cheese and yogurt and fermented products, especially dark beer, soy sauce and red wine are all significant sources of tyramines. Taking antihistamine drugs, either before or after consuming, won't prevent or cure headaches.

The use of either aspirin or acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) in close time frame to alcohol consumption can seriously damage the lining of the stomach and should be avoided. The combination of acetaminophen and ethanol causes liver damage, so the former should never be used to treat hangover symptoms.

The only way to prevent a hangover is to avoid consuming too much alcohol. One good habit to develop is to match every glass of wine or drink with one full glass of water. Alcohol depletes electrolytes from the body and brain, so "sports" drinks can help also. The worst possible hangover "cure" is "hair of the dog", since hangover is merely the winky-winky, socially-tolerant slang term to describe episodic alcoholism withdrawal.

Overindulgence is potentially the worst health problem of consuming wine or any alcoholic beverage. Drinking too much ethanol at one time will cause headaches, nausea, and other symptoms for anyone, regardless of individual tolerance to other compounds in wine. Drinking too much or too fast leads to loss of control and judgment. A couple of glasses of wine may help relaxation and lower blood pressure, but four or more raises blood pressure to a level of concern.

Alcohol enters the bloodstream while it passes from the stomach to the small intestine and continues to the liver which uses an enzyme called dehydrogenase to break down and eliminate alcohol from the body. Evidence suggests factors of body size, muscle mass, food intake, gender, and experience affect one's capacity to resist drunkenness to some degree. On average, a healthy human can metabolize one-half ounce of alcohol per hour. The best rule is to not consume more than one drink (4 ounces of table wine) per hour, regardless of size, sex, or a full stomach.

Practiced in moderation and consumed with food at mealtime, wine drinking may develop cultural and sociological patterns that actually help to prevent alcoholism. The vast majority of healthy people may enjoy wine regularly and moderately as a pleasure that supports and prolongs a gracious life.

New Cholesterol Fighter Found In Red Wine

Sep. 9, 2003 NEW YORK, Sept. 8 Scientists have known for some time that red wine is healthy for the heart. Now, they have found evidence that provides yet another explanation for this effect.

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have identified another group of chemicals in red wine that is linked to the ability to lower cholesterol. Called saponins, these glucose-based plant compounds are being found in an increasing number of foods. This is the first time they've been found in wine, says Andrew Waterhouse, Ph.D., Professor of Enology (wine chemistry) at the University of California, Davis.
His finding was described today at the 226th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. For the most part, the so-called French Paradox the association between red wine and decreased heart disease has been attributed to resveratrol, a compound found in grapes, which acts as an antioxidant. But saponins could be just as important.

"Saponins are a hot new food ingredient. People are just starting to pay attention to it," says study leader Waterhouse. "No one ever thought to look for it in wine."
The compounds are believed to come from the waxy skin of grapes, which dissolve into the wine during its fermentation process.
"Average dietary saponin intake has been estimated at 15 mg, while one glass of red has a total saponin concentration of about half that, making red wine a significant dietary source," the researcher says.
In general, Waterhouse found that red wine contains significantly higher saponin levels than white about three to ten times as much.

According to Waterhouse, red wines contain about the same amount of saponin as they do resveratrol. But while resveratrol is thought to block cholesterol oxidation by its antioxidant action, saponins are believed to work by binding to and preventing the absorption of cholesterol, he says. He also mentioned that saponins are known to affect inflammation pathways, an effect that could have implications in heart disease and cancer, according to published studies. Besides wine, other foods containing significant amounts of saponins include olive oil and soybeans. The compounds are even more abundant in desert plants such as the Yucca and Quillaja. For the most part, saponins make up the waxy coating of these plants, where they function primarily for protection.

Saponins have just recently be found in red wine. They are a waxy like substance found in the skin of grapes. Wine, from a nutrition standpoint, is famous for the French Paradox. The French Paradox says that the French people eat a lot of fat and rich foods but still have less heart disease than non wine drinking societies. The latest scientific thinking was that the antioxidant resveratrol was responsible for this phenomenon.

Like most things scientific we are learning every day and we still do not know everything. The saponins dissolve into the wine during fermentation and the quantities are quite large. For whatever reason no one thought to look for saponin in wine, but there it is. Saponin is not an antioxidant like resveratrol and works differently.

Resveratrol blocks the cholesterol from oxidation like a good antioxidant should. As you may know antioxidants are free radical killers and resveratrol is one of the best free radical killers. Now Saponin acts differently, it binds to the cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed so the body gets rid of the unwanted cholesterol very quickly. This is the synergistic action of two chemicals working differently but together to protect the body against disease. Therefore, this gives grapes and wine a double whammy against heart disease. This synergistic effect is just what the scientific community misses by trying to isolate chemical nutrients to make drugs and single nutrient pills. This goes to show you that nature knows what it is doing and we should learn to listen closer. Health is better served when the whole plant or the whole plants essence is consumed. An interesting feature research found was the more alcohol content the more saponins.

Saponins are a phyto-chemical and are found in most vegetables, flowers, beans and herbs. Because of this it is a good idea to eat lots of vegetables and good whole food herbal and vegetable extracts where you can get more nutrients quicker and easier.

Here is a short list of saponin rich foods and herbs
  • Grapes
  • Soybeans
  • Oats
  • Spinach
  • All peas and beans
  • Soapwort
  • Foxglove
  • Licorice
  • Ginseng
  • Beetroot
  • Asparagus
  • Mullein flowers
  • Cowslip
Saponins research shows these health benefits
  • Maintain blood cholesterol levels
  • Circulatory and heart health
  • Aids in the absorption of minerals
  • Has anti inflammatory effects
  • Some are noticeably diuretic
  • Help varicose veins
  • Helps phlebitis
  • Arteriosclerosis
  • Bone health
  • Cancer
  • Strengthens immune system
Almost all of the plant kingdom contain saponin nutrients and could very well be one of the main reason why eating healthy foods keeps the body in an optimal healthy state. It is probably a good reason why native remedies work so well. The Chinese herbalist has been using saponin rich herbs for thousands of years. We will be hearing a great deal more about this chemical nutrient in the future. In the meantime eat healthy and have a glass of wine. Oh yes do not forget those whole food supplements which are saponin rich.

Dan Keating has been researching anti aging nutritional and natural healing supplements for thirty years. Our minds and bodies are capable of living for over 152 years in a healthy state. The research concentrates on using whole food based nutrition, exercise and super food nutritional supplements to slow aging and allow for optimal health for as long as possible.

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