What’s your pleasure? Wine? Or Pepto-Bismol? Since returning two weeks ago from some fascinating times in sundry climes — 60 days worth — I’ve been particularly mindful of human health, not least my own. Travel can be tiring, and lower physical resistance. This airport, that airport. This station, that station. Trains, buses, catamarans, taxis — all with luggage to pull, lift, shove, and store. Up the stairs, down the stairs. Taxi! And so on.
Travel can take a lot out of you, and it’s good to know that wine drunk in moderation can put a little something back in.
I’m not being altogether facetious about my “wine or Pepto-Bismol” alternatives. In a clinical study conducted in 1995 in the United States researchers concluded that bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and shigella were destroyed more readily by red and white wine than by Pepto-Bismol. How so? Alcohol drunk in moderation, it seems, might lower food poisoning risk by stimulating the stomach’s acid secretion.
Wine-related studies have fueled the wine-promotes-health perception during the ’90s, in health-related terms “the decade of the grape.” Prominent among them were studies pointing to greatly reduced heart disease risk from drinking a glass of wine each day — one for women, up to two for men. I’m always a bit bemused by what seem to be nearly invariable conclusions that women can handle only half as much alcohol as men, since my personal experience at professional drinks-related events in many countries simply does not bear this out.
In 1997 American researchers found that alcohol may have a protective effect on blood lipid levels, especially high-density lipoprotein (HDL), a protein in blood plasma involved in carrying cholesterol and other fats from the blood to the tissues, and may even stimulate blood flow. Studies showed that men who had a drink or two each day had a 32 percent lower risk of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), better known as hardening of the arteries.
The same year, researchers at the University of Bordeaux conducted a study of some 3,000 people aged 65 or older — a very large sample group — and discovered that risk of Alzheimer’s disease was reduced in subjects who had a daily glass or two of wine, probably because wine’s anti-oxidants are beneficial. Let’s not forget the Slovenian former Olympic multi-medalist (17 times, including golds) who reminisced on his 100th birthday last Nov. 12 that he’d had a glass or two of wine every day of his adult life.
Two glasses of wine per day with a meal did not result in a weight gain for 14 men tested at Colorado State University in another 1997 study, a finding that flies in the face of the alcohol-makes-you-fat hypothesis. The upshot, it seems, is that moderate drinking promotes insulin sensitivity that helps regulate weight.
Not the least significant of wine-related studies conducted in 1997 was one done by American Cancer Society researchers, who concluded that risk of death is reduced by 20 percent by having one or two drinks a day over a nine-year period.
Lest we forget the common cold, medical research conducted in Britain by a team of British and American researchers in 1993 revealed that people who drank wine in moderation every day suffered from fewer colds than abstainers. Scientists inoculated 50 volunteers, ages 18 to 50, with common cold viruses, monitored their reactions, and noted that although the benefits of moderate drinking vary from person to person, moderate drinking had a salutary effect.
Moderate drinkers are as susceptible to colds as anyone else, but it seems that their drinking habits thwart the tendency of colds to get worse, with sneezing and sniffling to boot. Researchers concluded that colds can be combated by drinking each day up to three 4-ounce glasses of wine (or an equivalent amount of alcohol contained in beer or spirits).
Rather than preventing the viral infection, then, moderate drinking seemed to impede the development of cold symptoms. Any notion that alcohol can cure colds is absolutely false. Once cold symptoms become manifest, a cold runs its course for drinkers and nondrinkers alike with equal tenacity.
I sort of dread the thought that we might ever have a wine purported to have only half the usual number of calories. Statistical evidence shows that quite a few people, including many of my American countrymen, respond to similar food-related claims by eating twice as much, so all the weight-reducing ballyhoo becomes counter-productive. Imagine millions of calorie-obsessed drinkers suddenly deciding they are at liberty to drink twice as much without being penalized in calories. Don’t forget the alcohol!