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Wine in Moderation Can Be Part of a Healthy Lifestyle

I recently wrote this piece for a cardiologist for him to use to inform his patients. Readers may find it of interest.

Many years of scientific research support the notion that wine if consumed in moderation regularly with food and combined with a healthy lifestyle that includes (1) avoidance of smoking, (2) staying lean, (3) exercising regularly at least 30 minutes five times a week, and (4) following a diet low in animal fat and high in fiber, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can offer significant health benefits.

The following are considered by the medical community to be generally accepted truths:

1. Any health benefits from light-to-moderate alcohol intake disappear with regular binge drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women)
2. There is a lower risk of death in light to moderate drinkers of any type of alcoholic beverage and this is true for both sexes and all races.
3. Moderate wine drinkers are more protected against cardiovascular diseases, but also stroke and peripheral artery disease. The cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption increase with age. Mature adults potentially benefit the most and the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality clearly outweigh possible cancer or other disease risks.
4. The leading cause of death in women is heart disease. Low-to-moderate drinking in women over 40 years of age can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
5. Low-to-moderate drinking has little effect on cardiovascular medications.
6. The scientific community believes that red wine among all alcoholic beverages offers the most health benefit since it contains a combination of alcohol and various polyphenols derived from grape skins.
7. The potential health benefits from alcohol, and in particular red wine, are only obtainable through regular and moderate consumption. Wine consumed with a meal may be healthier as it increases cardioprotective effects, aids digestion, decreases food-borne pathogens and may aid the metabolism of sugars and starches.
8. Wine in moderation provides gustatory pleasure and relaxation Julia Child has remarked, ”The fact that people drink wine to relax and enjoy life is, in itself, enough of a health benefit for everyone.”

Drinking in “moderation” is widely accepted to be one standard drink or glass (5 ounces) of wine a day for women and up to two glasses (10 ounces) of wine daily for men, assuming there are no medical contraindications.

The importance of moderation in wine and alcohol consumption, in general, cannot be overemphasized. Good wine challenges our human frailties because if it tastes good, we want to drink more of it, but there is no added benefit to drinking more than moderate amounts of wine daily. The term, hormesis, applies here, meaning a biological phenomenon in which the favorable effect of a moderate dosage of a substance is toxic in higher doses.

Heavy drinking should be avoided as it can lead to a number of serious health problems including high blood pressure, heart attack, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke, decreased longevity, type 2 diabetes, alcoholic hepatitis, tremors, dementia, and cancers of the back of the throat and gastrointestinal tract. One is much better off not to drink at all than to drink too much wine.

However you view the health claims for wine, it is hard to argue against a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and a modicum of red wine. Even the great sage, Johnny Carson, knew the benefits of wine. After undergoing quadruple bypass surgery, he offered the following advice to David Letterman who was recovering from quintuple bypass surgery, “Drink more red wine.”

Your physician should always be consulted about the effects of wine consumption on your health as well as lifestyle and diet advice, and you should choose a personalized course. Be perfectly honest about your drinking habits. Medical professionals do not advise abstainers to begin drinking for health reasons.

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