Since the 1980s there’s been growing evidence that wine is conducive to a healthy lifestyle. I’m an avid reader and follower of all things related to wine, and this includes scientific studies documenting the health benefits of wine. Before delving into the delicious health benefits, I need to emphasize that all the benefits are predicated on moderate consumption of wine. Just remember that too much of anything good is bad. The good news about wine is by no means a new discovery.
Historians and lovers of history are frequently amazed at the sagacity of the ancients. Ever since wine was first made some 8,000 or 9,000 years ago in central Asia, the health benefits became clearly apparent. In ancient civilizations, wine was far safer to drink than water.
The earliest written accounts of health benefits of wine are found on Sumerian and Egyptian tablets dating back to 2300 BC. These tablets provide recipes for medicines made with wine. The Greeks helped pioneer the science of medicine and the most famous Greek physician of all, Hippocrates, proscribed wine as a daily health drink. He counseled that wine was to be enjoyed with food and also used as medicine for digestive ailments and as a disinfectant for wounds.
Greek poet Eubulus wrote that three bowls of wine per day was the ideal amount for daily consumption. In his circa 375 BC play, the main character Dionysus says, “Three bowls do I mix for the temperate: one to health, the second to love and pleasure and the third to sleep. When the third bowl is finished, wise guests go home.” Dionysus then details the evils of excess all the way to the tenth bowl that led to madness. Based on ancient measurements, three bowls was already an impressive amount roughly equal to one 750ml bottle of wine.
The benefits of wine are also mentioned in most important religious books of the West, including the Talmud and the Bible.
For most of the 20th century, alcohol was viewed as detrimental to one’s health. This negative view of wine and other alcohol dates to the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century when cheap, mass-produced wines and liquors resulted in rampant alcoholism and ensuing health and social problems. Alcohol was one of the few affordable escapes available to many workers as they toiled and lived in miserable conditions. Proliferating alcohol abuse led to a backlash, and many social and political groups branded alcohol of all types, including wine, as evil. This dark picture of alcohol was pervasive during most of the past century.
About three decades ago, modern scientists rediscovered what the ancients already knew — that wine was actually good for you. One defining moment in the West was in 1991 when the popular US television news show “60 Minutes” aired a show titled “The French Paradox” that was based on a study by French scientist Serge Renaud. His groundbreaking study examined the paradoxical relationship between the high fat and dairy diet of people in southwestern France and their relatively low occurrence of cardiovascular disease. How could these people regularly consume dishes like cassoulet, foie gras and other foods full of artery-clogging animal fat and still have a much lower instance of heart disease than people living in other parts of Europe and the US? Renaud concluded that this was in large part due to the regular intake of red wine.
Today the health benefits of regular, moderate wine consumption are so well documented and recognized that even teetotalers have a hard time disagreeing. We’ve known for decades that wine is good for the heart, lowers blood pressure and combats hypertension, fights cancer and stalls dementia. The anti-aging properties of wine are also widely acknowledged.
Recent studies by some of the world’s most prestigious universities and medical centers including University of Barcelona, University of London, Cornell University and Harvard Medical School are discovering new and surprising benefits associated with wine consumption. These include better lung performance, protecting eyesight, enhanced oral health, anti parasitic qualities, better bone density, improved equilibrium, protection from sunburn and yes, even weight loss! Concerning the later, a report in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine said that people who regularly drank wine during meals were less likely to overindulge.
But knowing that wine is healthy isn’t enough; you still need to pick a wine. Healthy grapes When considering wines that are good for your health, it seems that not all grape varieties are created equally. The chemical compounds in grapes and the wines made from them are quite complex, but two of the most beneficial natural compounds in grapes are a polyphenol called resveratrol and a class of flavonoids called procyanidin. Dr Leroy Creasy of the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University found that Pinot Noir wines had the highest resveratrol content of all major wine types. This means the reds of Burgundy and the Pinots of the New World are among the healthiest of red wines. That other goodie in wines, procynidin, is most generously found in thick-skinned, tannic red wine grapes like Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Tempranillo.
Lovers of white and sparkling wines, fret not. Recent studies indicate that cool-climate white wines with long growing seasons may be as beneficial to health as many red wines. This means glasses of Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc or Champagne may well also be fine elixirs of health.