Facts for wine drinkers


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Many health-conscious people wonder whether wine is a medicinal tonic that benefits their health, or something that should be avoided at all costs. Nutritionist Frank Cooper spent two years researching the subject of wine and health, and found many answers. He investigates the medicinal, nutritional, and environmental issues to do with wine, and the health considerations of the chemicals and additives that may be used in wine-making.

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Facts for wine drinkers

  1. 1. Many health-conscious people wonder whether wine is a medicinal tonic that benefitstheir health, or something that should be avoided at all costs. Nutritionist Frank Cooperspent two years researching the subject of wine and health, and found many answers.He investigates the medicinal, nutritional, and environmental issues to do with wine,and the health considerations of the chemicals and additives that may be used in wine-making.The journey starts by revisiting the French Paradox and why French cuisine is protectiveagainst heart disease. Professor Serge Renauds paper, published in the British MedicalJournal in 1991, helped bring wine into favour around the world. The good doctor, aCardiologist working at the University of Bordeaux, reported that 2-3 glasses of red wineper day for males could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 40%. For women herecommended 1-2 glasses per day.
  2. 2. Copenhagen Heart Study - DenmarkThe answer was provided several years later in 1995 when the Copenhagen Heart Studyfrom Denmark was published in the British Medical Journal. This was a study to analyzealcohol consumers of wine, beer, and liquor. The study tracked 24,000 men and womenover a twelve-year period. The report analyzed the death rates and found that only winehad a beneficial effect on reducing all-cause mortality. The Copenhagen Study provedthat there was something different about wine. But what was it? What were the healthproperties in wine?Antioxidants / Free RadicalsThe answer came from American food scientists who were investigating free radicalsand antioxidants. Dr. Edwin Frankel and his colleagues at the U.S. Department ofAgriculture in Illinois and the University of California (Davis), had done considerablestudy into oxidation and the benefits of anti-oxidants. When oxidation occurs in thehuman body it can damage living cells. However Frankels team observed that thenatural chemicals found in plant foods were powerful anti-oxidants that counter-balanced the damaging effects of cell oxidation. In other words, oxidation is fine in thehuman body if there is a counter-balancing supply of anti-oxidants as found in plantfoods.Lets now consider some of the downsides of wine.As a clinical nutritionist working with patients, I have noted many people who sufferfrom wine allergies. These sufferers restrict their consumption of wine because ofheadaches, facial flushing, sinus problems and other negative reactions.Wine allergies can be linked to a number of chemicals that enter the winemakingprocess, and to a lesser extent, the natural chemicals contained in the grape itself. Sincemost people can eat grapes without a problem, it would suggest that the naturalphytochemicals found in grapes are an unlikely culprit. Therefore the focus must be onthe chemicals added during the grape-growing and winemaking processes.The extent to which chemicals are used in wine-making varies greatly between wine-
  3. 3. makers, so lets investigate the more common chemicals that are used.Vineyard ChemicalsInsects and fungal diseases are a major problem in most vineyards and they are treatedbefore they cause serious damage. The solution is to spray the vines with compoundsthat destroy the pests, and these can be either organic or man-made pesticides. Somevineyards use organically-approved pesticides like natural sulphur and hydrogenperoxide as they do not leave any toxic residues on the grapes. However the majority ofvineyards use man-made pesticides because they are more powerful, and require lesseffort. As a rule, man-made chemicals benefit the grape-grower, whilst organicpesticides are of benefit to the consumer for health reasons.Sulphur Dioxide, Sulphites, Preservative #220Many people, including myself, are affected by wine allergies caused by the addition ofSulphur Dioxide. This is a chemical that goes under different names including"Preservative 220" and "Sulphites". These are all the same term for Sulphur Dioxide andit is the chemical that has been proven to cause most of the allergies experienced bywine drinkers. Note that whilst #220 is the most commonly used, any number between#220-226 is a sulphite.Oak – a potential problem for some.Oak is a problem for sensitive people because it contains high levels of tannins that arethe astringent component of most plants designed to repel insects and grazing animals.Tannins have strong chemical properties that affect some people.Another problem with oak is that the insides of wine barrels require cleaning anddisinfecting from time to time. Unfortunately this will require cleaning chemicals toclean the inner barrels and these are absorbed into the timber and will leech back intothe wine later.
  4. 4. Cork or Screw caps – which is better?This is a winemakers hot topic. But let me give you the story as I see it in the year 2008.The traditional cork as we know it, has been used for centuries. It allows the wine tobreath, and helps the wine to age over time for those who like to cellar their wines.However it has a real problem. Cork is a natural product and can cause the tainting ofthe wine giving it a bad taste and smell. Statistically, it happens to 1-in-16 bottles whichmeans that 1 bottle in every 16 is a dud. Thats a very high risk especially if you havebought a premium-imported wine. For the technically inclined, it occurs when anairborne fungus combines with chlorine and becomes a compound called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, which causes the musty taste and smell known as cork taint. Wheredo these chlorine products come from? They can be found in cork trees that haveabsorbed chlorine-based pesticides such as DDT, chlordane, and heptachlor.Does wine contain histamines?This is a commonly held belief that is inaccurate. Histamines are molecules released bythe human body when exposed to some types of allergen which might be pollen or dust,and that includes the sulphites in wine. When the human body reacts to an allergen likesulphites, the immune system triggers a cascade of events, and one of those is therelease of histamines by the cells and tissues, which cause the familiar redness to theskin or results in headaches and so on. Histamines are a part of your immune system –but they are not in the wine. Some wines may contain small amounts of amines butthese are different from histamines.Supplements for the alcohol bluesOne of the problems with excessive alcohol is that it causes us to feel lethargic the nextmorning. Thats because alcohol overloads the liver, and whenever your liver isoverloaded, your energy level drops. The Chinese realised the importance of the livermany centuries ago, and Traditional Chinese Medicine focuses strongly on liver health.So what should you do if you are attending a dinner function, where you may drinkmore wine then you should?
  5. 5. Ethanol alcohol and your liverWine contains ethanol that the human body breaks down to its primary constituentwhich is acetaldehyde, a chemical that is toxic in high concentrations. Acetaldehyde candiffuse across the brain barrier and irritate the membranes in the brain that lead toheadaches the next morning. Fortunately, we have a key body organ called the liver thathas the responsibility to breakdown the acetaldehyde and remove it from circulation.Nationalities affected by ethanol alcoholPeople from Europe, who have been drinking wine since 2000 years BC, have geneticallyadapted to ethanol alcohol. However certain populations such as those of Asiandescent, and the original native people in the Americas and Australia, do not have thesame genetics for the metabolism of alcohol. These populations have a higher likelihoodof experiencing facial redness and flushing, heart rate fluctuations, and symptoms ofreduced blood pressure. This is sometimes referred to as oriental flushing syndrome.This is due to a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks down alcohol - called aldehydedehydrogenase – and consequently acetaldehyde remains in the bloodstream at higherlevels for longer periods. In other words, the acetaldehyde is not being removed fromthe bloodstream quickly enough causing the hot flushing effects. Rough estimatessuggest that 50% of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are partially deficient in thisenzyme.Acetaminophen/Paracetamol and alcoholMost people are not aware that the #1 cause of kidney failure in Australia is due toparacetamol (called acetaminophen in USA) which is a painkiller readily available insupermarkets. This "gentle to the stomach" painkiller is deadly to the kidneys if taken inexcess. In fact, there is no other drug that has such a narrow margin between theeffective dose and the toxic dose. In other words if taken exactly as prescribed,paracetamol has a good safety record. But if taken beyond its guidelines, then damageoccurs. What is also not well known is that paracetamol affects the detoxificationpathways used by the human body to breakdown alcohol, and therefore anyoneconcurrently drinking alcohol and taking paracetamol will be over-dosing on
  6. 6. paracetamol. This can cause serious kidney damage and lead to kidney failure andultimately liver failure. If painkillers are required, then I would recommend the herbalpainkillers.How much wine can you safely drink?One or two glasses per day are fine for most people who do not have a medicalcondition. A glass of wine is 100ml, so 100-200ml per day is fine for the average-sizeperson. A larger person weighing say 180lbs (80kg) or more may consume 200-300mlper day. Remember that a standard size bottle of wine is 750ml (26 fluid ounces) so aquarter bottle is probably the right amount for most people.