Posts Filed Under wine health
What’s the REAL connection between wine and your health?
Anyone who hasn’t been living the past few years on that crazy Lost island (with the ghosts and tropical polar bears and droll plot lines) has likely heard that wine is purported to have benefits to your overall health.
But the connection between better health and wine is not as straightforward as you might think. In fact, far from being a direct link, the wine/health connection is more like a Homeric journey, full of unexpected twits and turns.
A journey that is detailed in this post, with the Dude here acting as your host, as we visit the science lab, examine the (non-Karmic) laws of cause and effect, stop in Galapagos, and give a nod to Quantum Theory, while also troubleshooting my home wireless network. Also involved, unavoidably, is France (hey, we are talkin’ wine here, after all), and we end unexpectedly at MSNBC (where nobody really goes!).
It will all make sense in a minute or two (okay, maybe 5). So pack your intellectual bags, and let’s get rolling on the road to wine & health…
Ever since the (in)famous 60 Minutes special exploring the French Paradox (told you we couldn’t avoid France), scientific studies have been trying to test if wine consumption is the de facto reason behind why France’s high-fat-diet eating residents don’t keel over in their 30s from heart attacks.
To even begin to answer whether or not wine is or isn’t imparting various health benefits, including seemingly being the elixir of long life for the French, I’ve gotta explain the difference between scientific theory, and medical fact.
In science, it can be difficult to prove things as being indisputably true. In fact, whenever scientists state that something has been solved, you can bet within 10 years it will get turned totally on its ear. Which is partly why we have theories instead. Quite often, a scientific theory is never called fact, especially if it’s complex. Over time, if it stands up to enough quantitative evidence then it is taken to be true, even though to actually prove it might remain improbable. Good examples of this are certain aspects of Quantum Mechanics, as well as Dawin’s island turtle-inspired theory of Evolution – it’s unlikely that we can ever prove this theories unequivocally, but because they so accurately predict events in our universe, and are backed up by overwhelming amounts of scientific evidence, you’d be kind of nuts not to treat them as fact.
In science, it can be difficult to prove things as being indisputably true. In fact, whenever scientists state that something has been solved, you can bet within 10 years it will get turned totally on its ear.
That’s a bit different than medical facts. Medicine is concerned with cause and effect relationships. I.e., identifying positively that you have a certain disease that is causing your symptoms, and treating that disease as effectively as possible.
To illustrate the difference, let’s take a practical example. Let’s say your wife calls and tells you that she can’t get to the Internet via your home network. [Editors note: you have my permission to take a break at this point, and get yourself a glass of wine… but I swear to the heavens that this post will eventually teach you something about wine… hang in there, people!]. If when you get home you discover that the wireless router has been turned off, then you’ve got a pretty good case for having proved a cause-effect relationship why she didn’t have Internet access. BUT… I can’t then theorize that I every time she calls you, her Internet access will be down – that prediction would get you into a lot of trouble!
Okay, but back to wine, what does this all mean for the average wine-drinkin’ Joe or Jane?
Certain compounds found within wine have been proven to have potential health benefits. Of this, there can be little doubt based on the scientific evidence carried out in statistically meaningful studies. The potential list of health-friendly (including cardiovascular and anti-oxidant) wine compounds and their effects on your health is a long one so I won’t reprint it here. [ Check out these handy lists from WinePros.org and BeekmanWine.com for detailed info. on that. ]
Little evidence exists to suggest that wine itself is the de-facto cause of those health benefits. At least, not in the ‘Surgeon General can endorse it’ sense. It may feel obvious to normal folks that if wine has compounds that are good for you, then wine is probably the cause of the positive health benefits seen in wine consumers during scientific studies. But scientifically that conclusion cannot safely be drawn from the findings of existing studies (especially not in the medical field). For now, it’s just a guess – a reasonable one, but a guess nonetheless.
It may feel obvious to normal folks that if wine has compounds that are good for you, then wine is probably the cause of the positive health benefits seen in wine consumers during scientific studies. But scientifically that conclusion cannot safely be drawn from the findings of existing studies.
Plenty of evidence exists to link alcohol abuse to poor health. This one is also supported by a great deal of evidence, so it does not follow at all that if wine is good for you, more wine is better for you. In fact, exactly the opposite is true – alcohol abuse can be deadly to your health.
What’s scary is that fewer and fewer people seem to be getting the message. Check out this (non-scientific) poll from MSNBC for starters – not a perfect example but it shows that more people in that survey are drinking daily than not. Add in the rise in health-care costs from rising alcohol abuse in the States and in the UK, and you have a troubling trend on your hands.
Maybe the French Paradox has less to do with what the French eat and drink, and more with how they approach life in general. One of the code ideas of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat is that French culture teaches how to respect food and wine, leading ultimately to true enjoyment of it with all of your senses (and away from abuse). While we’re probably never going to unequivocally prove that one, there just might be enough evidence to treat it as true…
(images: hwcoc.org, novusvinum.com, wordinfo.info, msnbc.msn.com)
(images: wiskirchengallery.com, farm3.static.flickr.com, smokingkills.com)
Smoking sucks donkey butt.
Hardly a news flash, right?
But what you might not know already is that, aside from the fact that smoking kills more people per year than alcohol & drug abuse, homicides, suicides, car accidents, fires, and AIDS-related deaths – combined – it also kills something else near and dear to our hearts.
Smoking totally kills your ability to truly appreciate wine.
You want to learn to appreciate wine like a pro? Then you’d better quit smoking, pronto…
1) Smoking impairs your sense of smell.
This is a well-known effect of smoking. Considering that almost all of your ability to taste wine stems from your ability to smell, this makes smoking pretty much the death knell of your wine appreciation pursuits. And it will stay that way until you quit smoking.
2) Smoking impairs your sense of taste.
According to TheScoopOnSmoking.org, “If you smoke, you won’t be able to taste your food as well as nonsmokers do.” That’s because smoking damages your taste buds. So, what smoking doesn’t kill in terms of your ability to appreciate a wine’s aromas, it will kill in your ability to savor its flavors on your palate. You might as well be drinking water (or grain alcohol) instead.
3) Smoking creates off-odors that interfere with your (and others) ability to appreciate wine in the glass.
When you smoke, you stink. Your clothes, hair, and breath all suffer from off-odors when you’re a smoker. The kind of strong off-putting odors associated with smoking are absolute murder for the appreciation of wines with delicate aromas. What’s more, nothing will piss off other wine geeks more than your smelliness impairing their ability to appreciate the wine in their glasses!
4) Smoking is boku expensive.
The money that you spend on smoking (current estimates put this around $200 per month, on average) is money that you can’t spend on good wine. I don’t know about you, but I consider $2000+ a year a good deal of money; after all, that’s almost 225 bottles of tasty Centine (or maybe 1.5 bottles of Chateau Petrus – in an off-vintage). Aside from the large personal expense of the smoking habit, it could also be argued that you have a civic and moral duty to quit smoking, to promote the public good. Why? Smoking increases general medical expenses, even for non-smokers. For example, treatment costs and rising insurance rates (even for non-smokers) are being driven up due to smoking-related health costs. Not really related to wine, I know, but since I had your attention I couldn’t resist mentioning it.
5) Smoking will kill you.
While there has been past publicity given to medical studies that claim wine drinking can counter some of the arterial damage caused by smoking, there is no evidence to suggest that drinking wine can help counter any of the dozens of other negative health impacts of smoking. The bottom line is that smoking will kill you.
And I’m fairly certain that death seriously imparis your ability to appreciate fine wine.
(images: tastephx.com, defendamerica.mil, green-talk.com)
For those of you plying along at home, I’m a new dad – of only a few remarkable days. As you might imagine, you could change my handle to “1DiaperDude” and it would be an apt description, since I’m far more involved in baby-related activities at the moment than I am in vino sampling.
As a new parent, I now find myself asking questions that, in my previous life (BC – Before Children), I would never have considered:
This kid is *adorable* – is she actually mine?
How much talk about poop is too much talk about poop?
Do any criminal sex offenders live in our neighborhood?
What’s the best way to threaten my daughter’s future teenage suitors when they eventually come to the house to take her on a date, without risking incarceration? Display a “wall of weapons”?
Because I’m a wine geek, I’ve also been asking another question:
How can I (eventually) introduce my family to responsible wine consumption?
As I pondered that last question, I came to realize something. It’s something that struck me as very important (and maybe, I dare say after having a few glasses of vino tonight as I type this, a touch profound):
Our children are the “collateral damage” in the marketing fight for your wine dollar…
1) On the one hand, state-run liquor distribution monopolies (such as the PLCB) are exploiting our fear of keeping our children safe.
These wine distro. monopolies protect their big profits by fighting legislation that would open their state wine sales to the free market.
How do they muster support for that legislation? They scare it out of you, by telling you that your children will get their hands on alcohol illegally if states governments permit wine and other alcoholic beverages to be sold via the Internet and direct-shipped to your door.
On the surface it seems a simple choice – protect your kids., right?
But what the wine monopolies don’t tell you is that their data are based on seriously flawed studies. They’re betting that a) you’re too dumb to scratch under the surface and get the real facts on their studies, b) you’re not a smart enough parent to teach your children responsible behavior around alcohol, and c) you won;t bother because your kids will become scheming, irresponsible teens anyway.
If I was dolling out grades, that approach would get, at best, a D minus. It’s the politics of fear vs. the politics of free trade – and our kids, unable to adequately defend themselves, are caught in the crossfire.
2) On the other hand, for the most part our U.S. society does little (or nothing) to introduce kids to the notion of responsible, healthy alcohol / wine consumption. Instead, we allow that introduction to take place via movies and TV, where our children get to see seriously unhealthy over-consumption portrayed as the height of coolness, synonymous “real” partying and fun.
What can we do about it? The role of parenting is essential:
1) “Teach Your Children Well” – As parents, we need to insure that we spend enough time in our children’s lives. Part of that QT (eventually) is to help them understand wine’s healthy place at the dinner table, in our society at large, and in world history.
We also have to make sure that our kids don’t view alcohol over-consumption as something “cool” (so cool that they automatically associate it as being essential to having a good time).
2) “Teach Your Parents Well” – As parents, we need to encourage each other, and encourage the dialog of abuse prevention (instead of treatment). Why hasn’t this dialog made more headway into traditional media and social programs? I’ve no idea – though I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that both cases mentioned above line the pockets of somebody.
Try searching on Google for family and alcohol, and you’ll see what I mean – you will get results that deal with treating alcohol abuse problems in the family after they are already problems; you won’t find much on responsible prevention.
One of the few places where you can find this dialog taking place is in the wine blogging community. Commendably, many wine bloggers have tried to tackle this topic, Dr. Debs and The Pour among them.
You can support the positive dialog by supporting the wine blogging community. Donate to your favorite blogs, spread the word by giving them a digg, join the Open Wine Consortium, and join the fight against wine distro. scare-tactics by writing to your state governments to let them know how you feel about their questionable practices.
3) Set an example by drinking responsibly, and not abusing alcohol in front of your children. Well… duh…!
Nobody said being a dad would be easy. Being a dad has made me even more determined to fight against wine distribution monopolies. And it’s given even more respect for the value that the global blogging community can provide.
Mark Fisher, who writes the Uncorked blog at the Dayton Daily News, has posted an interesting piece this week with his thoughts on a recent American Journal of Medicine alcohol study.
Mark’s thoughts are always worth a read, and this article is no exception (and thanks to him as well for mentioning my previous post on the same overall topic of wine consumption and health).
While the study itself highlights the positive effects of alcohol on middle aged baby-boomers, Mark uses the study to point out that the issue of alcohol consumption and health is not a simple one.
I.e., trying to binge on wine in your 50s to make up for the booze that you didn’t have when you were younger is not gonna help you reap any wine health benefits. That kind of thinking is more likely to fatally turn your liver into a large hunk of scar tissue.
The good news is that the liver can recover from short-term damage – it just needs a break from the likes of coffee, medication, and especially alcohol. So if you’ve been hitting the wine tastings with added gusto lately, consider giving yourself and your liver the gift of a few days (if not a few weeks) of abstinence. Remember, I’m a wine nut, so if I’m saying it’s a good idea to lay off the vino from time to time, it’s not because I just like to type!
Also, for those of you playing along at home, Wine Blogging Wednesday #44 has just been announced by Gary V. over at Wine Library TV. Yes, that Gary V. The theme this time around is French Cabernet Franc. So, if you want to join the wine blogging community in a review, go pick up a wine and transcribe your thoughts! Details are available here (including what areas of France to look for at the wine store if you want to participate).