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Are There Health Benefits to Wine

More than 100,000 deaths per year are attributed to alcohol, in the United States. Alcohol-related auto accidents account for approximately 24,000 of these deaths (most often the victims are under 30 years of age), while alcohol-related homicide account for 11,000 and suicide 8,000 deaths. Certain types of cancer, which are partly associated with the consumption of alcohol, contribute to another 17,000 deaths. Alcohol-related strokes are responsible for 9,000 deaths. 25,000 lost lives are due to 12 alcohol-related diseases including cirrhosis of the liver.

All these deaths combined are the equivalent of 200 jumbo jetliners crashing and taking the lives of everyone onboard, in just one year. Such numbers are staggering until you realize that it is Coronary Heart Disease that is the number one killer in the United States, not alcohol. There are roughly 900,000 persons admitted to U. S. hospitals for strokes annually and 830,00 admitted for Congestive Heart Failure. Though they are not always fatal, these diseases will leave its victims at varying levels of incapacitation.

Looking at specific age groups, cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of those age 65+ and #2 killer of those age 25 64 This is a political issue for the U. S. with so many lives lost to alcohol-related disease and accidents. Leaders will not be perceived favorably by designating research money to study the health benefits of a drug responsible for damaging so many lives. I believe it is this political climate which limits research in this area, and I believe it is this climate that limits the amount of coverage the media provides about its possible benefits.

As I began to research this subject I was intrigued by the vast number of articles and studies on the health benefits of wine. The industry has submitted a number of press releases attempting to counter the negative social stigma alcohol had developed circa 1992 – 98. These articles aside, I found reputable sources, with published reports, from such respected names as Harvard, UC Davis, Georgetown, and the Mayo Clinic. Several of these studies have been published in the American Medical Journal, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

I found articles referring to the French Paradox. This is an occurrence where the French diet contains equal levels of fat as the U. S. however the coronary disease related mortality rate of France is 1/3 that of the U. S. diet. I believe we must investigate and prove or disprove the assertion that wine is somehow involved. Either we are letting hundreds of thousands of people die or become severely debilitated senselessly by not taking advantage of wines possible benefits, or we are allowing an industry to spread half-truths with the potential of hurting unsuspecting consumers.

Mounting evidence continues to suggest that when taken with a balanced diet, moderate amounts of wine can reduce the level of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream, reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce the risk of stroke, and thus lower mortality rates. Are there health benefits to drinking moderate amounts of wine, which will reduce the mortality rate in humans? Even though fat intake in France is similar to the American diet, the liberal consumption of wine in France protects the French against coronary heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and thereby lowering the risk of blockage, thus reducing mortality rates.

First, mounting evidence continues to suggest that when taken with a balanced diet, moderate amounts of wine can reduce the level of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. The human body manufactures approximately 80% of the cholesterol used and stored in its cells. The remaining 20% is derived from eating animal products. Cholesterol is transported through the body via the bloodstream. To allow this, the body attaches a protein to the cholesterol. This combination is called a lipoprotein.

The body requires high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (good cholesterol) to assist in the removal of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol from the blood vessels. Failure to remove excessive amounts of LDL cholesterol will result in a plaque buildup and blockage of the bodys main arteries. Blockages may occur gradually or suddenly. Plaque can break off and create a blood clot, with the consequences of a possible heart attack or stroke. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic suggest a low-fat diet and exercise to lower and maintain the correct balance of cholesterol.

If the balance can not be achieved through diet and exercise, drugs are now available to reduce levels of HDL cholesterol; drugs for this treatment however are costly (up to $200 per month) and are associated with some risk of liver damage. In a Mayo Clinic Dietician report the clinic sites a 1997 American Journal of Cardiology report that alcohol provides the greatest benefit by raising high density lipoprotein and by decreasing the stickiness of blood, making it less likely to clot. The report continued by saying red wines contain the antioxidants: flavonoids and phenols, which hinder plaque from forming.

These antioxidants also possess an anti-clotting quality. Wine contains approximately 200 different phenolic compounds, but only a handful are considered antioxidants. The antioxidant flavonoids are water-soluble plant pigments. First discovered by the Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (who first discovered Vitamin C), Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi found that flavonoids strengthened capillary walls even better than Vitamin C. The main sources of flavonoids include fruit, tea, and soy. The report stated that the flavonoids in these foods protect against heart disease and cancer.

Dr Andrew Waterhouse of the University of Davis, Department of Viticulture, and Enology says wine is one of the best sources of phenolic antioxidants available to Americans. Davis researchers believe wine to possess five times the phenolic levels of fresh grapes. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic as well as those at the University of California at Davis did stress alcohol is a highly addictive drug, and may not be appropriate for all persons (including children, adolescents and persons with addiction issues). If used however, they believe wine should be used only in moderation.

Because of differing opinions on its benefits, the researchers did not suggest that any patient start drinking. Evidence is mounting however that wine has the ability to lower LDL cholesterol, and reduces the damaging affects of the bad cholesterol. Next, mounting evidence continues to suggest that when taken with a balanced diet, moderate amounts of wine can reduce the risk of heart disease, and thus lower mortality rates. A CNN report by Hacsi Horvath said on the benefits of wine, Several studies have shown that drinking a glass or two with meals may indeed help to protect against heart disease.

The report referred to what some call the French Paradox a phenomenon where out of 21 affluent countries studied, France has the highest wine consumption rate, and the second lowest cardiovascular disease mortality rate. Others have given credit for this healthful success to the Mediterranean Diet, which includes: ? Low lard or butter, higher olive oil ? High in cheese, low in whole milk ? High in breads, fruits, and vegetables ? Light to moderate wine drinking Horvath says other studies have shown that wine drinkers may simply be more concerned about their health, as compared to non-drinkers, beer drinkers, or hard liquor drinkers.

Some studies have shown wine drinkers tend to eat less fat, and more fruits, vegetables, and fish. This would coincide with the Mediterranean Diet. So why not simply drink more grape, or other dark fruit juices? Horvaths report said this would be beneficial, however other reports have suggested the concentration of phenolic compounds was greater in red wines because the juice is actually fermented with the grape skins, pulp, and stems. In addition, during the processing of ordinary juices the juice is exposed to much oxygen, greatly reducing the healthful benefits.

Winemaking on the other hand is an anaerobic process; the healthful properties of the compounds are maintained. So, juice is good but wine is better. Dr. Jean-Paul Broustet of Haut Leveque Hospital in Pessac, southern France, writing an editorial for the British medical journal Heart noted red wine as one of the best components contributing to a healthy heart. He states its beneficial traits of lowering LDL cholesterol, but also notes the presence of resveratrol a compound that heightens the production of HDL cholesterol. Red grapes produce resveratrol to protect themselves from fungus.

The highest concentrations of resveratrol are found in the red wines, particularly in Cabernet Sauvignon grapes of Bordeaux. Because red wines ferment with grape skins and stem parts, the red wines have higher concentrations of resveratrol than do white wines. It is believed that some phenolic compounds including resveratrol act as antioxidants to prevent cell damage from oxygen-containing chemicals known as free radicals. The CNN report concluded that there was still much evidence however that it is primarily the alcohol, which acts to lower LDL protein by thinning the blood.

Yet, wine with a balanced low fat diet, maintained lower levels of LDL cholesterol which contributes to a lower frequency of heart disease and lower mortality rates. Lastly, mounting evidence continues to suggest that when taken with a balanced diet, moderate amounts of wine reduce the risk of stroke, and thus lower mortality rates. A CNN review of a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association it says, alcohol consumption appears to protect against ischemic strokes, which occur when the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot.

Dr. Salvatore says that 80% of all strokes are ischemic strokes. The study group included 677 people forty years of age and older, from Manhattan, who had suffered an ischemic stroke. Test results were compared to 1,139 subjects from the same community; those who drank up to two drinks per day had a 45% lower risk for suffering a stroke. Another study found similar results. Dr. Michael Elkind of Columbia University said, Our study showed that having a drink a day or perhaps two drinks per day can reduce the risk of stroke perhaps as much as 50%.

Yet another, and much larger 16-year study of 13,000 test subjects in Denmark just one year earlier found similar results (32% less chance of stroke) from drinking one glass of wine per day. The study had not gained much attention in the United States because the sample included only one ethnic race. Dr. Stuart Seides, a cardiologist with the American Heart Association noted that the study is based on one ethnic population, while Americans are a diverse lot with many dietary habits.

In Dr. Salvatores more recent study however, test results were consistent across white, African American, and Hispanic groups. The Danish test contrasted the variables of wine, beer, and hard liquor. The same positive results were not achieved for the beer or hard liquor drinkers. Another researcher, Jane Freedman conducting a study at Georgetown University Medical Center introduced grape juice to cells that cause clotting, and said, they have a much less tendency to form clots.

Two other studies supporting the benefits of moderate consumption of wine include the Harvard-based Nurses Health Study and the Physicians Health Study. These studies found moderate drinking lowers womens risk of death by 17% and mens risk by 22%. Possibly because of its antioxidant value, and/or its blood thinning effects, but evidence from studies continues to grow showing the moderate use of wine has a positive influence on decreasing the risk of stroke.

A drink is commonly defined as 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. Researchers all agree moderation is an important control. Evidence exists that wine in moderation (1 2 drinks per day) as part of a healthy diet does provide health benefits. However like other drugs, abuse of wine can prove destructive. If a greater number of persons with heart disease may benefit from moderate consumption of wine, should we limit further research because of those who may abuse the drug?

If we apply this logic to all controlled substances, we would not have access to many of the life-saving (or pain-killing) drugs available today. Existing research seems to indicate that further studies are required to determine the comparative levels of effectiveness between overall diet, the moderate consumption of wine with meals, and though not addressed in this report: exercise. Lower LDL cholesterol levels seem to be an important factor to reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack. The studies I reviewed indicate each of these factors contribute to a healthier life.

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