For your pleasure, and for your health
December 7, 2007
votre sant! It is what the French say in offering a toast when friends are gathered, a fine bottle of wine is opened and glasses are filled. Translated literally it means To your health, and the sentiment is clear, a wish given to you for a long and healthy life. But does drinking wine contribute to a long and healthy life? Perhaps you dont feel that way the morning after a night of indulging, when that foggy, leaden heaviness envelops both head and soul. But there is evidence on the medical front that drinking can, at least statistically, make you a healthier person.The emphasis, of course, is on moderation. Studies show that drinking wine, particularly red wine, provides positive health benefits, but they also stress (often in bold capitalization) that the key to getting those benefits is moderation. Simply put, less may be more.In 1991, the newsmagazine show 60 Minutes aired a segment on the so-called French Paradox. A French researcher named Serge Renaud completed a study that showed the French, despite a diet much higher in saturated fats than their American counterparts, had far fewer heart attacks. He deduced that the most likely reason for this disparity was that the French drank red wine daily. While the wine industry applauded what they perceived to be manna from heaven and wine consumption in the U.S. increased dramatically, the biggest outcome was that other researchers worldwide began to study the effect of wine consumption on human health.The most universally accepted benefit found by most researchers is that moderate daily consumption of alcohol can be a factor in improving cardiovascular health. Studies have repeatedly shown that people who partake of one to two drinks daily (a drink is generally defined as 5 ounces) will see lowered levels of LDL cholesterol and improved levels of HDL cholesterol the bad and good cholesterol respectively. It should be noted that these benefits accrue from any alcohol consumption, not just wine, something the wine industry would prefer to keep out of the conversation.But wine also has other attributes that make it unique from, say, rum or whisky. The skin of the grapes, particularly the dark grapes used in making red wine, contains a number of antioxidants such as flavonoids and resveratrol. Resveratrol is also thought to increase HDL levels, while flavonoids can prevent clotting in the blood. Of course the grape-juice industry points out that their product is made from grapes as well, and drinking straight grape juice may offer even greater health benefits than red wine.If you need validation from the medical community that a glass or two a day is the right thing to do, there is enough evidence out there to suggest that youre probably going to be headed in the right direction. So again, does drinking wine contribute to a longer, healthier life? Well, not if youre hit by a car, struck down by an avalanche, or bit by a black mamba. But the pleasure that comes from being with friends and toasting to one anothers health is just one example of a life well-lived. A bottle of wine can take you places, both literally and figuratively. It can please all five of the senses and that, in and of itself, makes it a pleasant part of life. Drinking wine gives us a direct connection to the earth from which it comes. Wine is grown, made and packaged for the sole purpose of bringing pleasure to those who consume it.I contend that for those reasons alone, a life with wine will be healthier. Any other benefits that come from its consumption are merely, as they say in New Orleans, lagniappe, a little something extra.So as the holiday season approaches, drink to your health. In moderation, of course.Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.