Wine and Health

Is wine a health food? Evidence mounts that it actually is, but one has to be careful in interpreting the scientific data and analyze the chemistry and its biochemical effects. This article is intended to be a primer on the health aspects of wine. Much of the historical history of wine involves the 300-400 year old Puritanical view, focusing only on the alcohol content and the evils thereof. Organic chemistry is a relatively new science of perhaps 150 years and, of course, biochemistry is approximately two generations (50-70 years) old. So, with the discovery of phenols, catechins, anti-oxidants, flavonoids, phyto-nutrients etc., one has to include them in the science of health. The French Paradox, which Maynard will elaborate on, roughly states that why is heart disease more prevalent in the west when the French have a higher saturated fat diet begging the argument that wine is the answer since at least for the next few years the French will have the highest per capita wine consumption in the world. Obviously there are other variables including trans fat and high fructose corn syrup, American food industry “inventions” which I will address in another article. As a hint, they are no more natural than refined gasoline and methamphetamine.

To begin the discussion, wine is virtually a bottle of chemicals, 99.9% of them natural, and wine has been present in civilization for millenia, possibly 4 to 6 thousand B.C. Those chemicals include ethanol, phenols, flavonoids, catechins and other proteins. The caloric value comes from alcohol and any residual sugar which is of the natural single and to a lesser extent disaccharide variety. The other chemicals are found in and just under the grape skin and hence, the argument that red wine is “healthier” than white. The health argument would have to separate the effects of alcohol and other chemicals, let’s call them anti-oxidants. Oxidation is just that, human beings “rust” over their life times, breaking down disulfide protein bonds and suffice it to say, oxygen replaces the sulfar much as oxygen changes the iron ferric molecule into ferrous oxide, rust as we know it. Free radicals are other compounds that cause the body to attack these fragile disulfide bonds. Free radicals are created from sunlight and other extremely complex enzyme deficiencies that are additive, that is, have an accumulative and increasing effect over a life time. Much is made of the anti-oxidative effect, wine certainly has a high concentration but not as high as green tea, my other most favorite beverage. What is actual scientific evidence in favor of anti-oxidants? As an ophthalmologist I have the unrefutable evidence of the AREDS data which was a study attempting to show a beneficial effect of anti-oxidant supplements in the retardation of macular degeneration. The study was started in 1992 and included vitamins A, C,E, zinc, copper, and selenium. The ten year study was actually stopped in the eighth year because the data showed a 28% reduction in macular degeneration progression and it was felt this information needed to be made public. The study showed a reduction and was not done as a preventative study, BUT, it is my opinion these supplements (with Lutein) will not harm a non-smoking individual.

I will continue this article addressing fat metabolism and discussing in detail resveratrol, anthocyanin, quenectin, and other wine compounds. Although it is a very complex topic, the chemistry of taste involving acids and aldehydes will be confronted.

Stay tuned,