Yes, Red Wine Can Boost Your Health
After watching my grandfather battle Alzheimer’s disease—witnessing it turn the most likable person I’ve ever known into a mean husk of a man—there’s little I won’t try to avoid it.
I quit drinking any form of tap water for a while because someone told me that its arsenic levels cause about as much brain damage as a few rounds with Mike Tyson. I still down fish oil pills like Life savers, although they leave my breath smelling, well, fishy for hours. And just recently, I swore off deodorant because a cashier at a bookstore mentioned that it can lead to Alzheimer’s. Needless to say, my popularity dwindles as temperatures rise.
The point is this: Preventive health—whether doctor-prescribed or homemade—seldom involves pleasurable endeavors. So when news is announced touting the health benefits of something enjoyable, it should be celebrated.
And in Southwest Florida, is there anything more routinely enjoyed than a glass of red wine? (After all, not many places can boast an $8 million wine festival.)
Then again, the health benefit of red wine isn’t exactly breaking news. People have been prescribing themselves glasses of Dionysus’ favorite adult beverage in the hope of battling heart disease since Dr. Serge Renaud coined the term “French Paradox” in 1992.
But in the past few years, new studies have emerged showing that red wine helps more than just the heart, improving everything from the brain to the effects of aging. Studies, however, aren’t always the most practical health guidelines.
“The problem is in this nutritional research, the hucksters have researchers, and they look at scientific studies that sound interesting, like cockroaches who live longer because they eat something weird,” Naples physician Dr. Daniel Kaplan says. “Then they find that substance, extract it and make a supplement.”
So to flush out the truth behind red wine and its advantages, I contacted a few local health experts and asked them to rule on its purported fitness benefits. Here are the verdicts.
The Claim: In 2008, Alzheimer’s researchers at UCLA, in partnership with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, showed that polyphenols, compounds that occur naturally in red wine, block toxic plaques that form in the brain and cause memory loss or Alzheimer’s.
The Truth: Not only does red wine boast Alzheimer’s-fighting compounds through polyphenols, says Dr. Douglas Newland, a Fort Myers neurologist, but also through a second antioxidant called resveratrol. Found in the skins of red grapes, resveratrol fights amino acids that researchers believe are the main building blocks of the aforementioned toxic brain plaque.
Newland recommends cabernet sauvignon and red zinfandel especially, singling them out for their abundance of resveratrol. And if that weren’t enough, it turns out that straight alcohol helps memory retention, too.
“Alcohol lowers insulin resistance, therefore less is produced and insulin levels are lower,” Newland says. “High insulin levels increase bad cholesterol production by the liver, cause retention of sodium and water, thicken arteries, promote atherosclerosis, raise blood pressure, cause carbohydrate craving and directly cause increased production of beta amyloid, the protein responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Before you run out and replace those fish oil pills with hourly injections of cabernet, understand that red wine is only a preventive measure when it comes to memory retention. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Newland says. “Before showing signs of memory loss, it helps. But after showing any mild cognitive impairment, it doubles the rate [of memory loss].”
The Claim: According to the Yale-New Haven Hospital, red wine benefits the heart through antioxidants called flavonoids, which work by: 1) limiting the production of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, 2) boosting HDL (or “good”) cholesterol, and 3) reducing blood clotting as it races through your heart.
The Truth: Yes, yes, it’s all true. We’ve known this for 20 years. Dr. Maurice Schneider, a cardiologist at NCH Healthcare System in Naples, confirms the Yale-New Haven report. He even says that the recommended one or two glasses of red wine per day recommended by experts is fairly average for Southwest Florida.
However, Schneider is quick to outline consumption restrictions. “I don’t want you to get the idea that large doses are better than small doses,” he says. “Heavy drinkers will see an increase in blood pressure and cardiomyopathy [a deterioration of the actual heart muscle]. You have to be careful.”
The Claim: Sirtris Pharmaceuticals has shown that resveratrol (the same antioxidant that fights Alzheimer’s) stimulates the expression of sirtuins, a class of enzyme that curtails the diseases sometimes associated with aging, such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. “Originally, our hope was that you’d be able to prevent diseases of aging. What we ended up seeing is actually you could therapeutically intervene in patients who have diseases of aging,” Sirtris’ Christoph Westphal told 60 Minutes.
German and Spanish companies, according to a Yahoo! report, have even begun developing a red wine powder that can be mixed into topical creams and added to food and beverages. A new Avon line of moisturizers called ANEW touts “sirtuin expression.”
The Truth: Here’s where scientific research gets a little tricky. “Does red wine help with diabetes? It probably does,” says Kaplan. “The problem is, we don’t know specifics.”
Like Newland, Kaplan touts the benefits of red wine because of its resveratrol. But most of the proven studies only outline red wine’s benefits to the heart and cardiovascular system. Still, Kaplan, who specializes in geriatric medicine, recommends drinking moderate amounts of red wine to his patients.
“Especially Spanish red wine because of its high amount of resveratrol,” he says. “But there’s also diluted grape juice, cranberries, blueberries; they even have a purple powder now you can drop into water that’s full of resveratrol.”
As far as the possible skin-rejuvenation elements of resveratrol?
A local dermatologist’s response: “No comment.” It could’ve been worse. That dermatologist’s nurse laughed in my ear. Four other Southwest Florida dermatologists either didn’t return my phone call or refused to comment.
The Claim: A new study in weight loss has the Internet aflutter with possibility, even if it’s only from female surfers. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital scrutinized almost 20,000 women for an average of 13 years. They discovered that women who consumed a drink or two a day were 30 percent less likely to be overweight than those who never drank.
The effects—although observable with beer, white wine and liquor drinkers—were most prevalent with red wine lovers, although the authors of the study are not sure why the connection between weight loss and moderate alcohol consumption exists.
The Truth: Betsy Opyt, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for Healthy Concepts Consulting & Your Ideal Coach in Naples, agrees with the study—sometimes. “Alcohol can help lower blood sugars, and people sometimes eat fewer carbs because they are drinking,” Opyt says.
But in Opyt’s experience, alcohol is usually a nuisance when it comes to shedding pounds. “People are always happy to hear they can drink in moderation. But they don’t really understand what that means.” Moderation doesn’t mean a bottle of your favorite wine. It’s one glass per day for a woman, two for a man.
Those partaking in alcohol also must be mindful of what they consume with it. “People in Naples drink heavily with carbs and heavy, greasy things,” Opyt says. “Most people actually eat more carbs. You have to be mindful of the situation. At happy hour with a small snack is fine.”
So now a bottle of red wine sits next to my fish oil pills, close to the spot my Speed Stick used to occupy. And in Southwest Florida, where libations partner perfectly with the beach, the golf course and the ballroom, red wine seems like a natural tonic.
Unfortunately, as with most everything in life, the key to enjoying health advantages of red wine is moderation. Disproportionate drinking leads to a disproportionate number of health ills far worse than a painful hangover. And, like wine itself, some are natural to Southwest Florida.
“Holiday heart syndrome is very common in Naples,” Schneider says. “People come down here [on vacation] and drink excessively. It creates rhythm disturbances that can put you in the emergency room. After all, there’s not much to do in Naples but play golf and drink.”
Anyone who’s ever piled into the family station wagon for the cross-country trek known as a family vacation will probably sympathize with a new study from researchers in the Netherlands.
After studying 1,530 Dutch adults for 32 weeks, the report showed that most of the enjoyment from a vacation comes from the planning part. The study, published in Applied Research in Quality Life and reported on by The New York Times, says that vacation planning boosted happiness for eight weeks.
On the other hand, the study showed that travelers who rated their holidays as “relaxing,” “stressful” or “neutral” showed no increase in happiness after the trip. “They were no happier than people who had not been on holiday,” Jeroen Nawijn, the study’s lead author, told The Times. Even those who reported being “very relaxed” on their vacations recorded an increase of happiness for only two weeks after their trip.
REMOVE TUMORS WITHOUT ABDOMINAL INCISION
In March, Physicians Regional Healthcare System began performing Transanal Endoscopic Microsurgery (TEM), a minimally invasive rectal cancer procedure designed to remove tumors without abdominal incisions.
Basically, the new procedure allows doctors to remove and suture rectal tumors using a special instrument inserted through the anus. While this may not sound like the most comfortable way to spend an afternoon, Dr. Susan Cera, the first doctor at Physicians Regional to use TEM, says it avoids the problems that go along with cutting through the abdomen.
“TEM is much less invasive than surgical procedures through the abdomen, and it completely eliminates any abdominal scarring,” Cera says. “In addition, the patient’s normal rectal function is preserved, since only the tumor and not the entire rectum is removed.”
In the 40 years since Earth Day’s inception, the United States’ skyline, waterways and landscapes have become less polluted. But America’s citizens are still reeling with contamination from an unlikely source: plastics.
At least that’s the message in a special Time magazine report. According to the article’s author, Bryan Walsh, “If the land is healing, Americans may be sickening. Since World War II, production of industrial chemicals has risen rapidly, and the U.S. generates or imports some 42 billion pounds of them per day, leaving Americans awash in a sea of synthetics. … They’re the molecules that make good on the old ‘better living through chemistry’ promise, appearing in items like unbreakable baby bottles and big-screen TVs. Those chemicals have a habit of finding their way out of everyday products and into the environment—and ultimately into living organisms.”
The report goes on to say that these toxins could lead to obesity, diabetes, autism and attention-deficit disorder. Furthermore, says Walsh, the government’s chemical regulation is antiquated and secretive, “deny[ing] citizens and federal regulators critical information about how substances are made and what their effects are.”
So unless there’s a change in governmental policy, Americans may continue to be slowly poisoned by their everyday plastic products.