By Ron James
A couple of years ago, a colleague popped into my office and held up a dark capsule. “Guess what this is?” he said, smiling like a Cheshire cat. “It’s a bottle of wine! I get all the benefits of red wine and don’t have to drink it.”
I looked at him as if he had grown a third eye. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of,” I began to rant. “If I’m going to get healthy drinking red wine, I’m going to do it the old fashioned way – and drink it in a very nice wine glass. ”
I guess I shouldn’t have been so hard on the guy. Hey, there are still a lot of folks, even in Uptown, who have yet to discover the joy of the grape. And if you think you can get the health benefits of wine in pill form, then swallow away. I personally think the stuff in the capsule won’t do much more than shrink your wallet. Even if it did have some benefit, there’s a magic that comes with drinking the real stuff that transcends health science.
“Wine had such ill effects on Noah’s health that it was all he could do to live 950 years. Show me a total abstainer that ever lived that long.”
~ Will Rogers
In 1991, “60 Minutes” did for red wine drinking what the movie “Sideways” did for pinot noir. In a now famous segment called “The French Paradox,” Morley Safer gave wine lovers some seriously good news. He reported that for some reason the French – who we all know are notorious smokers and eaters of fat stuff that tastes good but has been deemed bad for you by people who hate having a good time – actually had fewer heart attacks than we Americans who do the same thing but not quite as much.
Because everyone trusted Morley Safer, millions of Americans took up red wine as the new health drink of choice. In the year following the broadcast, red wine consumption in America increased by an eye-popping 44 percent. And many health conscious wineries, hoping to cash in on the phenomenon, actually lobbied the USDA for permission to label their wines as health food.
Since then there’s been an avalanche of studies on the health-giving properties of wine. Some of that information rains on our parade, saying there’s little to no evidence of benefit or pitching alternate theories that are not nearly as fun or liberating.
“In wine there is truth,
In beer there is strength,
In water there is bacteria.”
Long before the French paradox, actually long before Frenchmen, wine was known for its spiritual and medicinal powers. Stone tablets from Samaria and ancient scrolls from Egypt more than 4,000 years ago included medicines based on wine.
The father of modern medicine, Dr. Hippocrates, frequently prescribed wine for a bunch of ailments, including diarrhea and lethargy (although we now know too much of this medicine can cause both). Hippocrates also used wine for a wound disinfectant, as did physicians for another 2,000 years or so.
Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.
~ Louis Pasteur
The European medicine men of the 19th century began to realize that drinking water carried all kinds of nasty bugs, including cholera. Wine, not water, became the smart choice. When they did consume water, they added a certain amount of wine for sterilization; although many would play it safe and forego the suspect water and drink the wine straight. The French were very smart in that regard.
During Prohibition, the tee-totaling Temperance Movement put a damper on most things alcohol – including wine. Millions of acres of grapes were plowed under and most wineries closed. And although wine was sold in drug stores for medicinal purposes during Prohibition, wineries were required to mix a bit of nasty chemical additive into it that would induce vomiting before you were able to get a buzz.
“With wine in hand, one reaches the happy state where men are wise, women are beautiful, and one’s children begin to look promising.”
~ Robert Farrar Capon
It’s important to stress that I’m talking about drinking wine in moderation, not alcoholic abuse. And I’m talking about wine as a daily component of a diet, not once a week or so. Most researchers on the subject believe it is moderation and regularity that make wine a health enhancer.
The daily moderate amount depends generally on gender, age, body stature and weight. Some doctors say “moderate” equals one 5-ounce glass of wine per day for women and two for men. But a noted study in Denmark showed wine drinkers are at lower risk for all-cause mortality than non-wine drinkers. The report said light drinkers of beer and spirits who avoid wine have a 10 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality; those who include wine have a 34 percent reduced risk. Light to moderate wine consumption (1 to 21 glasses a week) reduced mortality from all causes, including coronary heart disease and cancer. It also showed an increase in mortality after 21 glasses a week.
The discovery of the French paradox led to more than 400 studies showing the health benefits of drinking red wine.
Scientists suspect that the silver bullet antioxidant in wine is called resveratrol, a compound found highly concentrated in grape skins. It’s part of the defensive mechanism for vines in fighting fungus and disease. In several tests on yeast cells, fish and mice doses of resveratrol had significant results in extending life and fighting diseases. Tests also showed that the compound can inhibit cancerous changes in cells.
And now the snake oil sales folks are putting the stuff in capsules and touting it as a wonder drug. Maybe the pill will have some benefits, but the real paradox to me is why anyone would take wine in solid form. There’s infinitely more to wine than the health benefits – one sip of a great pinot will tell you why.
“Wine is the answer, but I can’t remember the question”