How Healthy is Wine?

How Healthy is Wine?

Ernest Hemingway said that wine is “one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things in the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection.” I like wine quite a bit myself, as do many people.  There is some confusion about wine, however, due to conflicting media reports, etc.….Is it healthy or not? Some reports and article say yes enthusiastically, while others are more cautionary.

Today’s article is meant to bring some clarity to this topic.  As a starting point, let’s point out the obvious.

  • First, if you have issues with alcohol, then consider it bad for you and don’t drink it.  Get help.
  • Second, if you are overweight/obese or are currently very serious about losing fat, then stay clear from wine and all other alcohols.

The science is quite clear that alcohol stops the metabolic fat-burning processes in the body.  Let’s be clear, if you “think” that you want to lose weight/fat but aren’t willing to give up your nightly 1-2 glasses of vino, you are never going to actually make much progress because alcohol stops fat-burning dead in its tracks.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, let’s start to dig in.

Benefits from Wine

Wine contains polyphenols, which are colorful plant compounds that reduce inflammation, prevent oxidation, and provoke beneficial hormetic responses from our bodies. Grapes are quite rich in polyphenols, and when fermented during the wine-making process, the polyphenols are enhanced.

Red wine is higher in polyphenols than white wine, as most of them reside in the skin pigments. That doesn’t mean that white wine is bad for you – “lower” doesn’t mean zero, but if you are serious about drinking wine for the health benefits of polyphenols, then red wine is undoubtedly the superior choice.

Red wine reduces post-meal inflammation. In other words, when you drink red wine with your meal, the meal gets healthier.  Some scientists believe that LDL particles become more resistant to oxidation and their inflammatory genes turn off.

In regular wine drinkers, anti-oxidized LDL antibodies drop, indicating wine reduces the threat of oxidative damage.

Cons of Wine Consumption

The major con from drinking wine is the alcohol, because ethanol is a poison.

  • Alcohol depletes glutathione—glutathione is considered by many to be the master antioxidant from your liver. When glutathione runs out, liver damage sets in.
  • Alcohol damages your liver – simply stated, alcohol stresses the liver.  Cirrhosis of the liver occurs over a long period, but it is real damage.
  • Hangovers – no one enjoys a hangover.
  • Alcohol can be addictive –  alcohol is less addictive than nicotine, crystal meth, and crack, but more addictive than heroin, intranasal amphetamine, cocaine, and caffeine, according to one interesting research study.
  • Alcohol is strongly correlated to depression – higher ingestion of alcohol may increase the risk of depression.

Wine and Diseases

There exists a substantial amount of observational evidence to suggest that wine consumption is good for us. Just keep in mind that these are all epidemiological studies, which means that they do no establish causality, but plausible data exist which strengthen assumed hypotheses. Also, compared to other types of alcohol including beer and hard liquor, red wine has the strongest and most consistent relationship to health benefits.

  • Cardiovascular disease: One study found that 5 ounces of wine per day is better than none, while high intakes are worse for mortality. Generally 1 glass per day is seen as optimal unless you are a very large man.
  • Stroke: Wine consumption is linked to a lower risk of ischemic stroke, according to Mark Sisson.
  • Diabetes:  Some studies suggest that light or moderate wine consumption is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.  However, I disagree with this notion.  Since diabetes is essentially a disease of poor blood sugar management, I can’t see how drinking more sugar is going to smart.  So, in this case, I am in opposition.
  • Blood pressure: in people with a “fast” alcohol metabolism (which can be derived from genetic testing), drinking red wine at dinner appears to lower blood pressure.

Recommendations for Optimizing Wine’s Benefits while Minimizing the Cons

  • Water your wine – Ancient Greeks and Romans were known to add water to their wine in a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. Diluting wine is an easy way to stave off dehydration, and even improve flavor.
  • Drink it with food – wine is meant to be consumed with food. Wine improves the sensory experience of food, and reduces post-meal oxidative stress, as mentioned above.
  • Drink it with tea – I know this sounds weird, but fortifying alcoholic drinks with tea upregulates antioxidant production immensely.
  • Know your genetic risk – I got my genes tested recently so I know that I am a fast alcohol metabolizer.  I don’t drink much, but I now know that it’s not an issue for me to have more than 1 drink if I want to.  The truth is that some genetic variants speed up alcohol metabolism, while others slow it down. Gene testing is pretty cheap these days and will provide you with a lot more information about yourself than just your response to alcohol.
  • Drink “natural” wines – natural, organic, biodynamic, dry-farmed, low-sulfite wines indicate less human input and a greater expression of the grape’s naturalness (is that a word?). Perhaps the greatest benefit of these is that there is lower pesticide exposure.
  • Protect your liver – according to Mark Sisson, if you drink enough to feel the effects of the alcohol, preparing your liver can assist alcohol detoxification. Avoid foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids (chips and other processed foods), and instead consume foods rich in polyphenols (ginger, turmeric, and dark chocolate). Also, make sure to eat protein, exercise and get good, sound sleep.

Summary

There are pros and cons to drinking wine.  For most people, wine can be a healthy part of your diet, as long as it is consumed in moderation (preferably 1 glass per day) and with food.  If you have health issues that you think may be linked to your wine drinking, see a doctor.  There are numerous cases that clearly correlate wine consumption to bad sleep, poor gut health, headaches and hangovers.

Be smart about your drinking, and enjoy it in the spirit of Hemingway, as “one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things in the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection.”

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