Samui Wining & Dining
Wine & Your Health

The case for drinking wine - as if you needed one!


26Drinking red wine has long been portrayed by the media as healthy, and as a means of combating heart disease in particular. But lately, there has been evidence presented by medical researchers supporting claims that wine consumption can help prevent depression. And a study from the University of Leicester found that a chemical in red wine, called resveratrol, could help to thwart cancer. Other research from the University of Barcelona suggested that compounds found in wine might even protect against severe sunburn, of all things! So hopefully it’s understandable that, being a slightly overweight middle-aged man with a family history of heart disease, prone to bouts of depression, rationally fearful of cancer and occasionally stupid enough to sit out in the Samui sun too long, I’m drinking more than my fair share of red wine, every chance I get!

      But on a more serious note, I am interested to find out if these claims have any solid medical basis. And according to my doctor, yes. The main health benefit of moderate alcohol use appears to be related to its effect on the development of atherosclerosis, or the accumulation of fatty plaques in the blood vessels, particularly the coronary arteries that supply the heart.

These deposits decrease blood flow to the heart, and may promote the formation of clots, which can result in angina chest pain, or even a life-threatening heart attack.

      There is a growing body of evidence that people who consume wine in moderation tend to be healthier and live longer than people who either drink too much (you know who you are), or those poor souls who drink no alcohol at all! No doubt, all this positive publicity has greatly boosted the already soaring consumption of wine, especially reds. But I believe true connoisseurs would have carried on drinking wine in abundance, even if they were told the opposite about its health benefits.

      We have become so accustomed to our doctors telling us how harmful to our health our favourite indulgences are. But here we are in the wonderful position of being encouraged to consume wine by the medical profession. (Clearly, wine must be the exception that proves the rule.) Quoting physicians and researchers, The New York Times reported that drinking two glasses of wine a day is the single best way to prevent heart attacks. Better than a low fat diet or weight loss (good news again!). Better even than vigorous exercise. In Western countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, where heart disease is a major cause of death, this translates into a survival advantage. Plus, if the cardio-vascular benefit is not enough to get you reaching for the corkscrew, present in grapes are those anti-oxidants that we now hear so much about, in regard to the prevention of some cancers. And moderate wine consumption can even help prevent, and I’m not making this up… dementia!

     It’s true that moderate alcohol intake from any type of alcoholic beverage appears to be beneficial, but studies suggest that red wine offers so many additional health benefits. The regular drinking of red wine has been suggested as the explanation for the ‘French paradox’ - the relatively low incidence of coronary atherosclerosis in France, as compared with other Western countries, despite the generally high intake of saturated fat in the traditional French diet.

      Support for the positive effects of red wine, as compared with other alcoholic beverages, first emerged from the Copenhagen City Heart Study, in which 13,285 men and women were observed for 12 years. The results from this study suggested that patients who drank wine had half the risk of dying from coronary heart disease or stroke as those who never drank wine. Those who drank beer and spirits did not experience this advantage. Additionally, those who drank a moderate amount of wine on a weekly basis (two to seven small glasses a week) were found to have an even lower risk of depression. The researchers say these results remained the same even when accounting for lifestyle and social factors, such as marital status, smoking and diet. However, further findings suggest that wine consumption exceeding seven glasses a week could increase the risk of depression. The study authors add that greater alcohol consumption was more frequently attributed to males.

         The lesson for wine drinkers is clear, it’s vital not to overlook the key ‘in moderation’ part of this permissive new advice. For many of us, once started on an evening of good company, great food and superb wine, two glasses is just not enough. I will admit that, in similar circumstances, I can happily drink a whole bottle. And I know plenty of people who can drink a lot more. Even though we give wine such elevated status, the fact remains wine is alcoholic, often 15 percent volume. And we all know alcohol is a double-edged sword. On the positive side it is a mild natural tranquilliser, serving to reduce anxiety and tension. It’s a pleasurable way to relax, and perfect for breaking the ice at parties. But it cannot be denied that besides the potential health risks, alcohol is a major cause of heartache all around the world, indeed the common culprit for many of society’s ills. This would explain why governments find it extremely hard to adjust to the idea of actually promoting wine consumption for public health reasons.

         But then again, many of us need no such encouragement. In fact, we would prefer it if governments didn’t. Somehow, wine has more allure if it is considered a ‘guilty pleasure’ for indulgent hedonists.


Peter Jamest


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