Archive for the 'wine and health' Category

Study on Mediterranean diet: another French fillip?

A major clinical study shows diet–including wine–has a major impact on heart health. The New York Times summarizes the findings:

About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study found…

The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.

The group that consumed the Mediterranean diet in the study also had those accustomed to drinking drink seven glasses of wine a week with meals. All in the name of science.

It seems like 1991 all over again! In a widely-viewed segment then on “60 Minutes,” the news that the Mediterranean diet lowered coronary disease and failure saw Americans reach for wine, particularly red. (View segment.) Since 1993, per capita consumption of wine has increased every year.

Will this new study provide a further fillip for wine? Or is it not exactly news at this point, already baked into the paella, as it were?

“Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet” [New England Journal of Medicine]

Detox shmetox?

Some people try to start the new year with an empty glass: I know at least two wine writers who take all of January off from drinking any form of alcohol.

While that might be good for the brain, to know that there’s no addiction, apparently the liver is indifferent or confused. A story in yesterday’s copy of The Independent quoted a doctor as saying it is “medically futile” to stop drinking for a month thinking it can atone for previous overconsumption. The head of the British Liver Trust (the English BLT?) says “You are better off making a resolution to take a few days off alcohol a week throughout the entire year than remaining abstinent for January only.”

I try to take a day or two a week with no drinking or tasting. In part, it’s to spare my liver and in part because I am too busy running around. Whatever the reason, I feel it is a sort of reset, that makes me more excited to taste wine on those days that I do.

What are your steps to moderation? Have your say in the poll or the comments!

How much time do you take off from drinking?

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Rise of “le binge drinking” — and tighter policy

What causes binge drinking? It’s hard to say but in Europe, it does seem to predominate in northern countries where public policies coincidentally can limit hours and sales channels, sometimes with a dose of high taxes to boot. Southern European countries have generally consumed more alcohol, had more lax policy but have lower rates of binge drinking. Maybe it’s that the drink of choice is wine in the south. Or maybe it has to do with more permissive parenting, where tasting wine is not forbidden, but rather encouraged in moderation at table with parents.

The whole constellation is being called into question now that “le binge drinking” has arrived in France. Surprisingly, an NPR story specifically mentions the arrival of youth binge drinking as a failure of permissive parenting. I still cling to the idea that learning about wine en famille can provide a good base for moderation–these teens are slamming vodka, after all. Binge drinking is a complex phenomenon with many influences ranging from physiological, social, economic to even policy itself (some argue that a more restrictive policy fuels the binge mentality). Still, its rise in France means that national policy now allows only those 18 and up to purchase drinks. And some towns such as Lyons are placing bans on the sale of alcohol from 10 PM – 6 AM. Even though wine has been considered different from other alcoholic beverages–it has even been considered as food in France–it is obviously affected by the new policies.

It’s sad to see that France, where wine has been seen as the national drink and even as a part of the national image, has now ended up shifting closer to where we are in practice and policy. But they do have a president who doesn’t even drink wine. Who knows, maybe they will even have a list of party schools soon.

Is wine gluten-free?

gluten free wine
The NYT had a lengthy piece about the impressive growth in the market for gluten-free foods, driven in large part by the wider diagnosis of celiac disease and gluten allergy in this country. Is wine gluten-free?

The short answer is: yes. Wine is made from grapes, not grains.

In a couple of rare instances, wine could come in contact with gluten at two points during winemaking. Apparently, barrels once had a flour-based paste to smooth the joints on barrel heads; the practice today is far from uniform. If you have a doubt, opt for a wine that doesn’t see any time in small, oak barrels, such as a Riesling. Further, gluten could be used to fine the wine, but other forms of protein, such as egg whites, are used more often. Even if a winemaker used a gluten-based substance for fining, the point of fining is to clarify the wine: the fining substance drifts through the wines, collects any unwanted particles and falls out to the bottom of the tank where it is left behind. Research using mass spectrometry found there to be less than 10 parts per million in finished (bottled) wine, below the 20ppm threshold for a food to be considered gluten-free.

Current labeling laws do not mandate that wines that come in contact with gluten are labeled as such. But the chances are pretty slim that any wines actually contain gluten. Thus it will be interesting to see if, going forward, more wines tout their gluten-free status on the label to tie-in with the food trend.

Cabernet as Coppertone

cabernettone Researchers at the University of Barcelona have proclaimed that the official beach drink is not a margarita or a pina colada but rather: wine. Okay, they didn’t really put it that way. But they did find that wine flavanoids, found in red wine, can protect skin cells from UV rays and nasty sunburn. Even though their study took place in vitro, it wasn’t a wine glass, unfortunately. So I guess we’ll just have to douse ourselves in cabernet for the full effect on the beach. Forget wine ABV–in August, it’s all about the SPF.

“Protective Effect of Structurally Diverse Grape Procyanidin Fractions against UV-Induced Cell Damage and Death,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Rating wine by health scores: who cares?

wine antioxidants
Vinopic, a new wine retailer in Britain has developed a way to rank wines based on their health-giving properties. Red wines are sold with an IQ score, or Intrinsic Quotient, devised by Roger Corder. The site says that the score rewards wines with “higher quality” and polyphenols while penalizing wines with higher alcohol, sugar, and sulfites.

While I am sure that the site will become a popular destination (particularly among Google searchers seeking the fountain of youth), my general reaction is: so what? Wine may play a part in a healthy diet. And I have met a lot of people (mostly over 50) who say they only drink red wine because of the resveratrol. But I would never buy a wine solely based on whether it’s healthier for me. I’d rather eat a high-fiber, low-cholesterol diet, go for a run, drown in a bowl of blueberries–something, anything–rather than drink a steady stream of Madiran, a wine high in polyphenols. Nothing against Madiran, its just that there are too many interesting Rieslings wines to be limited to reds. Buying wine for health reasons: It’s the kind of thing that makes me sick.

What do you think? Even though the US regulatory authorities prohibit selling a wine on health claims, would you buy one based on perceived health value?

Department of Trading Up: Weight Watchers edition

weight watchers Even the recession did not lay waste to Americans’ love of wine: per capita consumption continued to increase the past couple of years even if the average per bottle price declined. Over the holiday, I found a curious cause of cutbacks that actually led to trading up: the waist.

A relative told me that he (!) has been doing the Weight Watchers system of dieting and weight management for a number of years. In nutshell, Weight Watchers assigns foods and drinks “points” partially based on calories and lets participants eat what they want as long as they stay below the daily points threshold. But Weight Watchers recently recalculated their points system; and the new “PointsPlus” doubled the points of a 4 oz glass of wine from two to four. Sacre bleu!

As a result, my relative said that he was buying better wine since he was drinking less of it. Gone are the $12 malbecs of yore (he said he was getting tired of malbec anyway) and now he’s spending $19 or $20 on a bottle at his local store in order to hopefully get a better wine. He said that he is enjoying the exploration but doesn’t always think that he gets a wine that’s commensurably better even though he’s spending 50-80% more on wine.

What do you think: is drinking less, but better, the way to go for a variety of reasons? Personally, I always prefer more wine and better wine, but that can’t always be done…

Alcohol, allergies, histamines and sulfites – reactions from an allergist

allergies wine As pollen showers down this time of year, a question that many allergy sufferers may have is whether alcohol exacerbates sniffling and sneezing. The answer is yes, but not necessarily for reasons they may think.

Last week, the Times ran a short piece assessing the claim “alcohol worsens allergies.” Their conclusion was yes, particularly for women.

But the problem is not always the alcohol itself. Beer, wine and liquor contain histamine, produced by yeast and bacteria during the fermentation process. Histamine, of course, is the chemical that sets off allergy symptoms. Wine and beer also contain sulfites, another group of compounds known to provoke asthma and other allergy-like symptoms.

I tweeted about it, curious if anyone had any reactions. I heard back from Sumit Bhutani, M.D., a board certified allergist at Allergy & Asthma Associates in Houston and wine enthusiast (and site reader!). In follow-up emails, he took issue with the treatment in the Times piece for lumping all nasal symptoms as allergies, whether they are or not, and placing undue causality on the histamines and sulfites in wine.

He says that histamines in foods have nothing to do with allergic reactions to those foods, so the amount of histamines in foods is almost never of value to allergists. He sent me a link to this observational study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology entitled “No correlation between wine intolerance and histamine content of wine.”

As to sulfites causing allergies or asthma, Dr. Bhutani says that sulfites cause respiratory symptoms in the small portion of the population already sensitive to them. For them, most whom already have asthma, the reactions are often severe forms of bronchospastic symptoms and may include anaphylactic reactions (you can assess your sensitivity to sulfites by eating five dried apricots, which often have higher levels of sulfites than a glass of wine.) He included a link to another study that tested the theory of low-sulfite and high-sulfite wines in patients with a reported history of asthmatic sulfite reactions. There was no objective drop in the subjects’ breathing test with either wine.

So does the alcohol itself worsen allergies? Dr. Bhutani suggests that when someone’s allergies are flared, alcohol can act as a congestant (a direct vasodilator, in his terms; because it is related to blood-alcohol levels, lower-alcohol wines should cause less congestion.). It’s similar to the way that people with allergies experience increased symptoms around other irritants such as second-hand smoke or strong scents. But he cautions that these indirect irritants are causes of allergy-like symptoms (called rhinitis), not allergies per se. He says that women are affected by this condition three times more than men.

Pity the wine tasters, critics and amateurs alike, that suffer from allergies who may be compounding their problems by tasting at certain times of the year. But if you don’t have allergies, it’s not likely the cause of congestion.

Related: “CONTAINS SULFITES: meant to frighten rather than inform


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