What’s so Great about red wine?

What’s so Great about red wine?

Uh, heller? For some of you in the know, this could probably be the shortest post to date on SPC. For others, information is power, so pour yourself a glass and let’s get this conversation fermenting (see what I did there?)

Wine is known by many names to many people. Clifton Fadiman called it “poetry in a bottle.” To Ernest Hemingway it was “the most civilized thing in the world.” Louis Pasteur said “wine can be considered with good reason as the most healthful and the most hygienic of all beverages.” Prosaic thoughts indeed but for many nameless friends (you know who you are), wine is simply “mommy pain go bye-bye juice.” And you’re not wrong.

We’ve been told for some time that red wine is good for us in moderation. Loaded with antioxidants, red wine is thought to have heart protective properties in the same way that foods high in antioxidants do. According to the Mayo Clinic, “antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart” and the health of those blood vessels is key in preventing heart disease, heart attack and stroke.  One such polyphenol that you may have heard about lately is resveratrol. Resveratrol has gotten a lot of good press recently thanks largely to “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Oz who has said he takes a resveratrol supplement in addition to imbibing the real deal. The Mayo Clinic says “resveratrol might be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces “bad” cholesterol and prevents blood clots” although they do point out that the research to date has involved only mice and more study is needed to confirm the same response in humans. Unfortunately studies have shown that much of the resveratrol in supplements is not absorbed by the body but causes no harm so supplementing may provide a little boost in the antioxidant or may, as with many supplements just provide “expensive urine.”

And what of the much referenced breast cancer conundrum? It seems that while red wine may help lower your risk of so many health issues, it slightly increases your risk of another, one that terrifies many women. But experts say there may be no need to put down your glass in alarm. We have long known that drinking alcohol can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, possible because it affects estrogen levels. But until recently, the guidelines seemed clear: 1 drink per day for women was considered safe. The newly published results of a 28 year study conducted at Harvard Medical School called those recommendations into question when they found that even as few as four drinks per week increased breast cancer risk. But even Harvard Professor Wendy Y. Chen who led the study cautions against overreaction. “An individual will need to weigh the modest risks of light to moderate alcohol use on breast cancer development against the beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease to make the best personal choice regarding alcohol consumption,” says Chen. And Steven A. Narod of the Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto, “who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, says “I would not want the average woman who is enjoying one, two, three drinks a week feeling guilty of negligence. At the level of one drink a day, I don’t think it’s a problem.” Overall lifetime consumption seems to be key so Chen notes that those who didn’t drink in adolescence were likely to have more leeway in adulthood (hmmmm, tuck that little factoid away for future use when trying to encourage your teenage daughters to abstain from alcohol…”but honey, think of all the fabulous cocktail parties you can go to when you’re 30!”)

Both Chen and Narod stress that women with higher overall risk factors (like family history, obesity etc) may choose to err on the side of teetotalling. And none of the experts advocate taking up drinking for the health benefits if you have other good reasons not to drink. But the current best advice, despite the recent media frenzy that seems to accompany any new research findings, is to enjoy the occasional glass of red wine and reap the heart health benefits. And if you believe as I do, that in the end it may be all the stressing out that will get us… then a little glass of Shiraz to take the edge off… how can that be a bad thing? That’s a rhetorical question!

Want your little under-agers to reap the benefits of red wine without the banging hangover that can really mess with learning the alphabet? According to the Mayo Clinic, grapes and grape juice also contain resveratrol so bottoms up, sippy cuppers!

MAKING SENSE OF THE CONFUSING NUMBERS

The Harvard Study showed a 15% increased risk of breast cancer for women who drank 4 or more glasses of red wine per week. 15% sounds like a pretty significant number and of course, any increased risk should be considered but consider this too. The average woman has a 12% chance of developing breast cancer at some point in her life. That means she also has an 87% chance of NOT developing breast cancer. The increased 15% risk is relative risk meaning that relative to women who don’t drink, women who do (moderately) increase their risk by 15% of the initial 12%. This translates to an overall lifetime risk of 13.8% or an increase of 1.8%. Make no mistake, when extrapolated over a population of women, that does add up to a substantial number of diagnoses but it is important to know that each individual woman’s risk is elevated only slightly. Media reports often focus on percentages because they are easier to report and explaining relative risk is more complicated (as proof, my brain hurts right now and steam is pouring out of my ears!) but knowing the real numbers can help you make an informed decision.

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3 Comments

  1. […] And if you’ve ever tried reasoning with a hungry toddler at dinner time, may I direct you to our What’s So Good About red wine post? But surely with over 700 varieties, there must be one for your little one. Plus there’s […]

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