This week our contributing writer Doctor Gifford-Jones talks about the benefits of drinking wine in moderation.
Why would I disagree with James Bond? He’s ordered dry martini’s for years and never seems to age. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, supported the use of alcohol. So did Jesus. After all, He transformed water into wine. And I never forget that, through the ages, polluted water, not alcohol, killed millions of people. That’s why I never feel guilty about a pre-dinner drink. But is it actually the alcohol that helps drinkers live longer?
A report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition casts a shadow over the alcohol longevity connection. It’s researchers claim they’ve discovered the real reason why drinkers live longer.
Dr. John Barefoot of the department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Duke University in Durham , North Carolina, agrees that moderate alcohol intake is related to better health. But he claims that the health benefits of alcohol may also be related to dietary habits and other lifestyle factors.
Dr. Barefoot and his colleagues have been studying the health of 4,500 graduates of the University of North Carolina for 38 years. Thirty-six percent of men and 14 percent of women were beer drinkers; 14 percent of men and 12 percent of women preferred spirits; 23 percent of men and 46 percent of women chose wine and 17 percent of men and 23 percent of women were teetotalers.
So how drinkers fare? Having spent some time at sea I always hope the rum drinkers will outlast all the others. But alas it wasn’t so. Once again the wine drinkers had the edge. But the benefits it seems were not entirely due to the sweet nectar of the gods.
Dr. Barefoot says that men and women who primarily drink wine generally lead a healthier lifestyle than the beer guzzlers, those who sip Bond’s martini’s or teetotalers.
So what do they do? They eat more fiber, smoke less, exercise more and consume less cholesterol and saturated fats. They are also less likely to be obese and more often are moderate drinkers.
Other researchers have suggested that wine drinkers enjoy better heath and live longer because they tend to enjoy higher incomes and are more educated. But Dr. Barefoot says his study shows that low income wine consumers also enjoyed good health. And that high income teetotalers were less healthy.
Beer drinkers, on the other hand, were more often obese and less likely to exercise. And the James Bond’s imitators were more often couch potatoes decreasing longevity by puffing on cigarettes while sipping martini’s.
Dr. Barefoot’s news was not good for those belonging to the Temperance Union. Teetotalers fared the worst with higher death rates and more disease. It wasn’t just the lack of alcohol that shortened their lives. Rather, they were often smokers, ate more red meat and less fruit and vegetables.
This research once again confirmed what others studies have shown. Moderate drinkers live longer, particularly wine drinkers.
What is it about alcohol that’s beneficial? For one thing it helps to oil the blood platelets, part of the clotting process. The more oil the less chance of a fatal blood clot. Alcohol also aids in increasing the high density lipoproteins (HDL) the good cholesterol which removes excess cholesterol from blood circulation.
Researchers say that wine, particularly red wine, provides the stimulus for longevity. The skin of red grapes contains polyphenols which decreases the level of endothelin-1 in the blood. Too much endothelin-1 triggers arterial constriction and possible clotting. Polyphenols also have an antioxidant effect which helps to prevent cellular damage.
Wine also provides a boost with “resveratrol”, another antioxidant. In addition to lubricating the blood it fights inflammation, a contributing factor in coronary attack. Resveratrol has also been shown to decrease the risk of cancer in laboratory animals.
So sorry, Bond, we can’t agree with you. In fact, I’d rather give up drinking than have to switch to martini’s. But since I do enjoy wine I like to remember the old adage that “there are more old wine drinkers than old doctors”.
Regardless of what we drink let’s do so in moderation. It’s the sum of all the bad things we do to excess that triggers illness.