“To take wine into our mouths is to savor a droplet of the river of human history.”
-New York Times, 1967
Let’s Start With A Little History
Wine has captivated the interest and the palate of humanity for thousands of years. There is evidence the first winery was started as far back as 4100 B.C. Unlike other libations that were intentionally man-made (or woman-made in the case of beer), wine was most likely discovered by accident. An ancient Persian story tells of a Princess who lost favor with the King. Distraught, she tries to kill herself by eating table grapes that had spoiled in a jar. Instead of dying, she gets drunk and giddy and falls asleep. The next day, she wakes up free from the stress of her life. The King is so impressed he lets her back into his good graces and shares her discovery with his court. Thus started the production of “spoiled” grapes.
Wine was initially used for medicinal purposes, then ceremonially, and then finally for enjoyment, especially when accompanied by food. As with most things, what is old is new and what is new is old. Wine has circled back from its prominent position in the food world back to the medicinal world. Lately there have been many articles and studies touting its health benefits. Are they significant? Maybe.
A study in 2000 found light wine drinkers as compared to teetotalers cut their risk of
premature death due to heart disease by almost a third. (1) This may be due to the increase in
blood flow that occurs with wine drinking. The fruit in the brew boosts good cholesterol
(HDL) and prevents the bad cholesterol (LDL) from causing damage to the blood vessels.
Research in Amsterdam studied 275 men and women. Those who drank one to two
glasses of wine daily had significantly higher HDL cholesterol levels. (2)
A research group from Loyola University Medical Center has found moderate red wine
consumption reduces the risk of developing dementia. They analyzed data from 19
nations and found a decreased risk in moderate red wine drinkers from 14 of them. The
risk was 23% lower in red wine drinkers compared to people who rarely or never drank
wine. (3) They attribute the beneficial results to resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that is
present in red wine.
While it is doubtful that wine decreases the risk of cancer, there are studies showing the
growth of oral, liver and breast cancer cells decrease when exposed to red wine.
However, studies of alcohol use in people have revealed those who drink have a slightly
increased risk of throat, esophageal, liver, and pancreatic cancers. Epidemiologic studies
have found the consumption of one small glass of wine daily increases the risk of
premenopausal breast cancer by 5% and postmenopausal breast cancer by 9%. (4)
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2000 showed women who
drank the equivalent of one to three glasses of wine a day had greater bone density than
nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. (5) Another study tested 500 elderly women and found their
bone density was 12 to 16% higher among moderate drinkers compared to nondrinkers. (6)
A comparable study of men found similar results. (7)
Words of Caution
The above benefits are only found in those who drink moderately. In fact, a study of
heavy drinkers found those who drink to excess die on average two years earlier than
moderate drinkers. Interestingly, moderate drinkers outlived nondrinkers by the same
Wine drinking may be beneficial, but those with a drinking problem should avoid alcohol
in any form. There are many other ways to improve heart, brain and bone health.
Exercise, healthy eating, and living a life with less stress and more sleep is a good place
“Wine has been a part of civilized life for some seven thousand years. It is the only
beverage that feeds the body, soul and spirit of man and at the same time stimulates the