The usual caveats apply. Excessive consumption is not advised. Those with liver disease, uncontrolled heart ailments or strong family histories of alcoholism should refrain from use. If you experience more than four hours of elation while consuming wine ... wait a minute, that's another subject entirely.
Nearly two decades after a "60 Minutes" report shed new light on drinking red wine -- it actually can have health benefits -- there is more evidence that this seemingly counterintuitive notion is true. And recent reports indicate that red wine has compounds that can increase lifespan and fight cancer.
These reports have credibility, if limited usefulness, according to Dr. Leo Sioris, senior clinical toxicologist with SafetyCall International, which provides medical and safety information hotline services for consumer product companies. "The benefits are more for those over 40, 50 years old who are more susceptible to the diseases," said Sioris, a professor in the University of Minnesota's College of Pharmacy. "And it varies with individuals, depending on diseases they have, other drugs they might be taking and their ability to handle alcohol."
But, added Sioris, the 1991 findings of Dr. Serge Renaud at the French National Center for Health Research -- which helped boost red wine sales by 40 percent in 1992 -- have "been strengthened" in the intervening years.
In trying to discover the facts behind "the French paradox" -- France had the world's highest rate of wine consumption (not to mention high levels of smoking and consumption of saturated fats) and the lowest rate of coronary-related deaths -- Renaud's research indicated that drinking one to two glasses of wine per day is beneficial to the heart.
The research goes back even further, although the apostle Paul was probably not using science when he intoned in Timothy 5:23 "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." Sioris pointed out that as far back as 1904, military coroners observed that soldiers who drank alcohol "had cleaner arteries."
It's now widely believed that compounds in red wines called polyphenols inhibit blood clotting, dilate constricted arteries and have other antioxidant qualities, and that alcohol itself can be beneficial to one's health. Sioris noted that Harvard Medical School researcher Eric Rimm took the wine-is-good-for-us paradigm a giant step further:
"A summary of the body of data suggests that abstaining from alcohol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease," Rimm wrote.
Yet another compound -- resveratrol, found in grape skins, and thus present only in red wine -- is now believed by researchers to not only suppress cancer but also to reduce fat cells and even extend life (only in lab rats, so far).
Now if only these crack researchers could find a cure for the headaches folks get when consuming red wine. Those, by the way, are believed to be caused by polyphenols. Of course, some red-wine headaches (RWHs -- yes, they have their own acronym) are simply result of, well, drinking too much red wine.
Which is not beneficial in any way, shape or form.
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