Is wine really good for you?

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 30, 2015 - 10:11 AM

Wine does have health benefits, especially as we age and largely because of a surprising factor.

“Wine is good for you” proclamations go way back. Further than the 1991 “60 Minutes” report that the wine-loving French live longer than Americans despite a higher-fat diet, more smoking and less exercise. Even further than Thomas Jefferson’s declaration that a tariff on wine is “a tax on the health of our citizens.”

Actually, this mantra goes all the way back to the man widely considered the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, who called wine “an appropriate article for mankind, both for the healthy body and for the ailing man.”

But since that “60 Minutes” report, which prompted a 39 percent increase in U.S. sales of red wine the next year, hundreds of researchers have conducted scores of tests on the possible benefits of wine. Many have tagged a compound called resveratrol as the “magic bullet” producing positive effects.

Wrong. Or mostly wrong, new research suggests.

The biggest benefits are derived from the component that makes millions steer clear of wine.

“The key ingredient in alcoholic beverages that affects most health outcomes is probably alcohol itself,” said R. Curtis Ellison, who has spent decades studying the effects of wine consumption.

“Wine contains up to 500 different polyphenolic compounds, many of which have been shown to improve health,” said Ellison, founder/director of the Institute on Lifestyle and Health at Boston University School of Medicine. “These substances strongly affect the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.”

Leo Sioris, a University of Minnesota pharmacy professor who, like Ellison, has spent decades studying wine, agreed.

Resveratrol has little, if anything, to do with red wine’s benefit, he said. “It’s the whole package of red wine, not the least of the polyphenols.”

Among alcoholic beverages, red wine contains the most such compounds and thus the strongest positive effect on health, followed in order by white wine, beer and spirits.

Yet red wine affects people differently, depending on their age, health and presence of specific diseases.

Of course, there’s one factor that all of this has in common: moderation.

“As with all drugs, which alcohol and wine are,” Sioris said, “the dose makes the benefit, and the dose makes the poison.”

Yes, red wine can be good for you — when consumed in moderation. Yet wine’s potential benefits can differ depending on a person’s age and relative state of health. Presented with different scenarios, two medical experts provided the lowdown on how wine affects various demographics of people and especially those with specific diseases. R. Curtis Ellison is the founder/director of the Institute on Lifestyle and Health at Boston University School of Medicine. Leo Sioris is a University of Minnesota pharmacy professor.

If you are middle-aged …

For postmenopausal women and middle-aged men consuming wine in moderation, Ellison said, “there are rather large and significant decreases in the risk of most of the ‘diseases of aging,’ especially coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia. Cardiovascular diseases [CVDs] remain the leading cause of death in developed countries, and moderate drinkers, especially those who consume wine with meals, have about 30 percent or greater reductions in risk of getting these diseases or dying from them.”

If you are young …

Young people derive few health benefits from drinking wine, Ellison said, because they are not susceptible to the aforementioned “diseases of aging.”

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