Archive for the 'wine and health' Category

Sparkling water, acidity, wine and teeth

There was a scaaaary story circulating the internets recently: Sparkling water is not good for your teeth! Some variants of the story even compared it to soda! Eeegad–just when you thought you were doing the right thing by completely depriving yourself of any flavor…

Well, as with most scaaaaary headlines, there are some caveats. And these also will allay any fears about wine.

Sparkling water is a lower pH than regular water, which, as we all remember from chemistry class, should be 7.0 or neutral. Sparkling water is about 5.5. Why? Well, the bubbles come with carbonic acid, which reduces the pH (below 7.0 is more acidic). Is that catastrophically bad? No. But the author of the much-circulated piece admitted to drinking 144 ounces of seltzer water in a day, so, yeah, that perma-bath of acidity all day long could be a little destructive if repeated daily. (Btw, reverse osmosis water reduces the pH in its filtering process so if you carbonate RO water via a system such as Soda Stream, it will have an even lower pH than non-RO water.) Sodas can have a pH of 2.5 and have been shown to be many times more corrosive than sparkling water.

So what about wine? Well, even though wine has a lower pH than neutral water, it is not a beverage that most people drink 144 ounces of. If someone had a particularly good night at a dinner, a half a bottle is only 12 ounces of wine. Combine that with food for a “buffering effect,” and, yeah, not a big deal in the dental department.

But what can be harder is tasting a lot of low pH wines such as Riesling or Champagnes. These high-acid wines can have a pH of 2.8-3.3 range. Tastings of these wines can be harder on the teeth and gums than tastings with tannic red wines, which have their own side effects of teeth discoloration (A smile and “hi honey, I’m home” after one of these tastings is usually met with “red wine this time?”). One dentist suggested to me that brushing after a tasting would be better than before a tasting, which would remove build up that could protect the teeth.

Anyway, wine tasters can get some relief in the fact that Sensodyne toothpaste and a Philips Sonicare toothbrush is probably all you need at the end of the day to combat even the toughest Riesling tasting regimen. Regular dental checkups are also advised. 🙂

Cold water on the “red wine myth”?

red_wine_pourResearchers have poured cold sauvignon blanc on the idea that red wine is good for your health. Eegad, it was all a chimera!

The new study, published in the British Medical Journal, makes a methodological point: previous studies looking at the effect of red wine an health had grouped respondents into drinkers and non-drinkers. But, they find using health data from England from 1998-2008, that lumping former drinkers in with teatotalers in the non-drinker pool brought down the overall health of the non-drinkers. Looking just at the teatotalers, the health effect of red wine was reduced or eliminated across age groups.

But what about the enjoyment of a glass of wine pleasure and happiness extending or enriching life? (The paper doesn’t actually parse wine in the analysis instead relying on units of alcohol.)

Listen to one of the killjoys who wrote the study. Emmanuel Stamatakis, professor at the University of Sydney, told “I think we have to put our results in the context of real life. Alcohol was consumed, is consumed, and will be consumed, so I think the moderate consumption method has still some value, providing that it’s put in the context of a broader healthy lifestyle.”

Wait, he’s not opposed to moderate wine drinking? Well, he continues! “I think, regarding the messaging, what is the main implication of our study, is to tone down quite a lot the messages around the protective effects of alcohol for health. I don’t think that we can be advising people to use alcohol drinking at the moderate level as a health promoting strategy, as a health promoting intervention.”

Oh, okay. But we already knew it took 35 bottles a day to reach the possibly effective dose of resveratrol.

“All cause mortality and the case for age specific alcohol consumption guidelines: pooled analyses of up to 10 population based cohorts” British Medical Journal

Melissa Etheridge brews pot wine

We’ve heard a lot about pot wine, those special barrels where marijuana is infused in the wine as it ferments and ages. Of course, like unicorns, they don’t exist because if a winery were found to be making such a brew, it would be steeped in a world of pain that even a big fat one couldn’t help moderate: they would lose their bonded winery license.

But Melissa Etheridge has found a way around these rules and regs to make pot wine a legal reality. Working with a dispensary in Santa Cruz, CBS News reports that the singer has created a line of “cannabis-infused fine wines.” Legally, the 90 cases she and her partners have cooked up are known as “wine tinctures” and can only be sold to people with a prescription. Describing the effect, Etheridge, a cancer survivor, says “You feel a little buzzed from the alcohol and then get a delicious full body buzz.”

The CBS story dares to find a doc who doesn’t think it’s such a great idea, saying “The wisdom of prescribing alcohol to any patients is highly suspect.” Whoa, he’s clearly not in Colorado!

Cuvée MJ is (legally) on the way.

“Cannabis-infused wine delivers a “full body buzz” says Melissa Etheridge” [CBS News]

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?

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

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.


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