Would you believe I only drink wine for its medicinal benefits? Would you believe I only look at Playboy for the articles? Okay, read on!
I was reading a wine review that began, “I had the beginnings of a cold, so I opened a bottle of dry Italian red wine.” Later, I was watching “Games of Thrones,” and after a battle scene, the doctors were treating the wounded by cleansing the injuries with wine. The 11:00 news had a story about wine lowering your cholesterol. Even in the Bible, Paul tells Timothy in First Timothy 5:23: “No longer drink only water, but, use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” Something in wine must be good for you!
So, I started reading. There are Egyptian Papyri and Sumerian tablets that detail the medical use of wine as far back a 2200 BC. Without a doubt, wine is the oldest man-made medicine, and was humanity’s primary medicine until the late 19th to early 20th century.
Hippocrates recommended wine as part of a healthy diet. He ordered its use as a disinfectant and in mixing other drugs. He used wine as a treatment for diarrhea, and as sedatives, anesthetics, and an aphrodisiac. There’s an Australian wine maker (Wolf Blass) who actually calls one of his wines “the leg opener.”
The Romans, big wine drinkers, continued using wine as a medicine. There’s a story about a Roman doctor named Galan who treated gladiators; he used wine on wounds and even soaked bowels in wine before returning them to the body. In the four years he tended the gladiators, only five died, whereas sixty had died under the watch of the previous doctor.
In November 1991, “60 Minutes” ran a story called the “French Paradox” detailing how the French enjoy a diet high in fats and dairy. But they have a low occurrence of cardiovascular disease. They linked this to wine consumption. After that broadcast, wine sales in the United States increased by 44%.
I’ve checked all major religions allow the use of wine as medicine. The Talmud called wine “the foremost of all medicines.” The Islamic sacred text, the Koran, forbids all alcohol, and it details wine’s use as a digestive aid and a disinfectant for wounds. In Catholic monasteries, the closest facsimile to a hospital during the Middle Ages regularly used wine for various medical treatments. The vine always follows the Cross!
As a matter of fact, wine is so closely related to medicine that the first book written about wine was authored by a doctor, Amaldus de Villa Nova, in the 14th century, and was about the use of wine in treating dementia and sinus problems. No, I haven’t read that one yet!
So what’s in wine that’s good for us?
Okay, here comes the science. There are many chemicals in red wine that are good for you, but the one enjoying the greatest publicity and study is Resveratrol. Resveratrol and other compounds mainly fall into the category of phenolics. These compounds act as antioxidants that prevent cell damage. I read a report that stated that 100 ml. of a 2003 Blaufrankisch had the same levels of polyphenols, which are four times the daily dose of Rosiglitazone, an anti-diabetic drug. Incidentally, I’ve never heard of Blaufrankish, which is a red German wine. It’s so red, there is a blend called Egri Bikaver, whose literal translation means “Bulls Blood.” It’s also called the Pinot Noir of the East. If anyone has tried it, let me know.
Resveratrol comes from the grape’s skin. It belongs to a class of compounds known as Stilbenoid. Resveratrol is also found outside of the grapevine family in plants such as eucalyptus and peanuts. It is part of the defense mechanism in grapevines, used as a phytoalexin produced in the leaves and berry skins in response to a microbial attack by fungus or grape disease. The buildup of Resveratrol slows and sometimes will stop the spreading infection. According to North Carolina State University researchers, Muscadines contain a unique blend of several natural antioxidants that can reduce the risk factors associated with degenerative diseases.
The production and concentration of Resveratrol is not equal among all the varieties of grapes. Differences in clones, rootstock, Vitis species, as well as climate conditions, can affect the production of Resveratrol. The degree of exposure to a greater risk of fungal infection and grape diseases also appears to play a role. The Muscadinia family of vines, which has adapted over time through exposure to North American grape diseases such as Pylloxera, has some of the highest concentrations of Resveratrol among wine grapes. Among the European wines, grapes derived from the Burgundian Pinot family tend to have substantially higher amounts of Resveratrol than grapes derived from the Cabernet family of Bordeaux. Wine regions with cooler, wetter climates that are more prone to grape disease and fungal attacks tend to produce grapes with higher concentrations of Resveratrol than warmer, dry climates
Red wine tends to have a significantly higher concentration of Resveratrol than white wine, even though white wine grape varieties produce similar amounts in the vineyards. This is because during winemaking white wine spends very little if any time in contact with the Resveratrol-rich grape skins. This maceration period not only gives red wine its color but also allows for the extraction of phenolic compounds such as Resveratrol into the resulting wine. Other winemaking techniques, such as the use of certain strains of yeast during fermentation, or lactic acid bacteria during malolactic fermentation, can have an influence on the amount of Resveratrol left in the resulting wines. Similarly the use of certain fining agents during the clarification and stabilization of wine can strip the wine of some Resveratrol molecules.
So, where can wine help?
Moderate wine consumption has shown, especially in women, to increase bone density.
Moderate wine consumption has been linked to reducing the risk of esophagus cancers, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and breast cancers. Women once again fair better than men in these studies.
Again moderate wine consumption has been linked to a lower mortality rate and a lower risk to heart disease. It’s been linked to a better balance of LDL to HDL bad cholesterol to good cholesterol. The theory is the wine cleans up, or removes the LDL. Wine has anticoagulant properties, which makes it less likely for platelets in the blood to stick together, less likely to form a blood clot. Pour me a glass!
Moderate wine consumption has been linked to helping adults ward off risks in developing dementia, but it can accelerate the decline in memory of those already suffering from cognitive impairment. Wine stimulates the release of a chemical called acetylcholine, which influences brain function and memory. I think it’s just a good exercise trying to remember the names of French wines.
Wine has shown positive effects against diabetes, reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Wine helps your vision by lowering the risk of macular degeneration, has positive links to weight management, and has positive influences on a person’s psychological health.
One word dominates all of these studies: MODERATE … as in moderate wine consumption. What is moderate?
Well, if you ask Dionysus, “three bowls do I mix for the temperate; one for health, which they empty first; the second to love and pleasure; the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guest go home. The forth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar; the sixth to drunken revel; the seventh to black eyes; the eighth is the policeman’s; the ninth to biliousness; and the tenth to madness and hurling furniture.”
All of these studies say that one five-US-fluid ounce drink per day for women and two glasses per day for men. If you use the standard set by Dionysus, three bowls is about 750 ml. or the size of the average wine bottle of today.