A Glass a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: Five Benefits of Red Wine that You Never Knew

A Glass a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: Five Benefits of Red Wine that You Never Knew

Posted December 15, 2014 at 7:00PM

I hit an epic writer’s block this week. Oftentimes I have trouble deciding which topic to write about for the week, only to see an interesting scientific article pop up on my feed, or I happen to come across an interesting topic in one of the books that I am reading.

This week, I was not blessed with any such epiphany. In fact I wrote the first 300 or so words of two articles before trashing them to start a third that also ended up in my computer’s recycling bin.

As I sipped on my glass of red wine in utter desperation, I thought that for the first time in over six months, I had nothing to write about. As I drank the ruby red liquid, it instilled an intense flavor of oaky tobacco with black licorice as it swirled around my taste buds.

Wine always seems to get my creative juices flowing. One glass sparks my creative writing, while two makes me unmistakably sloppy, and three glasses generally leaves me asleep at my desk with a headache in the morning. While writing this article, I did become uncharacteristically sloppy with my writing (okay, maybe that happens a little more often than rarely), but that is why I have an editor.

All along, my article for the week was slapping me in the mouth. This delightful slap led me to the article that was both obvious and necessary for this week: the benefits of red wine (white wine does not count).

1. It may offset free radicals in your stomach.

As I discuss at length in my book "Misguided Medicine", unsaturated fats are chemically and physically structured in a way that free radicals can attack and bind to them via a process called oxidation.1 As we have to eat, it is nearly impossible to avoid all foods that can carry free radicals with them. Complicating the issue, our stomach acid further adds to the process of oxidation.

However, data revealed that when polyphenols from wine are consumed during a meal, they buffer the oxidation from stomach acid and act as antioxidants to offset the formation of free radicals within our food.2 If we cannot always avoid the consumption of oxidizing foods, and we definitely need our stomach acid, perhaps wine provides us with a tactic to avoid this damage.

2. It raises HDL… but potentially only in those who exercise.

The benefit of wine in terms of raising HDL (i.e. “good” cholesterol) is a well-known and commonly touted benefit of this famous red elixir.3 However, a recent study from the Czech Republic is raising questions regarding this finding. Dr. Taborsky and his group randomized 146 people with cardiovascular disease to one year of moderate consumption of red wine (Pinot Noir) or white wine (Chardonnay-Pinot) from the same year and wine region of the Czech Republic.

Yes, an amazing study indeed, and to top it off, participants were apparently supplied with the wine. They even had to return the corks to prove that they drank it.

The scientists found no difference between HDL levels at the beginning or end of the study. LDL cholesterol was lower in both, and total cholesterol, for what it is worth, was lower in the red wine group only.4

However, when they performed subset analyses, they found that those who exercised at least twice a week and drank their vino did experience a significant rise in HDL, with a lowering of LDL and total cholesterol. I am literally writing this with a glass of Rioja in hand. No less than two hours ago, I was doing lunges at my gym. Apparently two rights make, well, a right.

3. It may be a potent probiotic.

Several weeks ago, we talked about the importance of our normal bowel bacteria in promoting overall health and fighting cancer. Well, a recent study from Spain has shown that bacteria in wine may supply our bowels with healthy bacteria.5

Almudena García-Ruiz and her group studied 11 strands of lactic acid bacteria in wine and their ability to pass through environments similar to the mouth (saliva), stomach (gastric acid), and upper GI tract (bile) and end up in the intestinal mucosa to help fight infection and disease. They found that the bacteria in wine were able to withstand the journey from our mouths to our bowels to help fight harmful bacteria like E. coli.

Keep in mind though, sulfites often added to wine can kill the bacteria.

4. Hippocrates, one of the most famous physicians in the history of the world, recommended it as a cure for all diseases.

About 2,400 year ago, Hippocrates was a prominent Greek physician. I made an oath to him prior to my medical training stating that I would follow medicine the Hippocratic way. He recommended wine for most ailments from treating pain to diarrhea.6 As most physicians are followers of the Hippocratic Oath, it only seems reasonable to follow Hippocrates’ lead.

5. Wine is the ultimate stimulus for social gathering.

In my culture and many others, wine signifies social gatherings and the coming together of people for conversation, laughs, and spending quality time together. As social interaction is the hallmark of happiness,7 happiness spreads through social groups much more robustly than sadness,8 and happiness is a key to living a longer life.9

The often forgotten aspect of the health benefits of wine, yes by yours truly, is that a little bit may be good for you and an amount that leaves you asleep at your desk with a headache the next morning is probably not. Though the headache is often just the delightful wine reminding you of how delicious it was the night before, the sulfites in it may beg to differ. Of course, always drink responsibly (and always drink red wine).

Interestingly, of all the benefits listed above, number five may actually be the most important. Study after study shows the importance of social gathering and conversation for enhancing overall happiness. Maybe this magical red elixir is simply working to bring people together to increase their overall health and happiness.

Regardless of the exact health benefits of a glass of red wine, I’ll take another. It helps with my writing…

To Your Health,

Dr. Colin Champ

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Dr. Colin Champ is a practicing radiation oncologist and nutritional expert. He is the author of Misguided Medicine: The truth behind ill-advised medical recommendations and how to take health back into your hands” You can hear more from him as the host of the incredibly popular Caveman Doctor podcast.

References:

1. Misguided Medicine: The truth behind ill-advised medical recommendations and how to take health back into your hands. Colin E. Champ. CDR Health and Nutrition 2014. Available here. Accessed December 9, 2014.

2. Kanner J, Lapidot T. The stomach as a bioreactor: dietary lipid peroxidation in the gastric fluid and the effects of plant-derived antioxidants. Free Radic. Biol. Med. 2001;31(11):1388-1395. doi:10.1016/s0891-5849(01)00718-3.

3. Naissides M, Mamo JCL, James AP, Pal S. The effect of chronic consumption of red wine on cardiovascular disease risk factors in postmenopausal women. Atherosclerosis 2006;185(2):438-45. doi:10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2005.06.027.

4. Wine only protects against cardiovascular disease in people who exercise, study finds -- ScienceDaily. Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140831125255.htm. Accessed December 10, 2014.

5. García-Ruiz A, González de Llano D, Esteban-Fernández A, Requena T, Bartolomé B, Moreno-Arribas MV. Assessment of probiotic properties in lactic acid bacteria isolated from wine. Food Microbiol. 2014;44:220-5. doi:10.1016/j.fm.2014.06.015.

6. Wine: A Scientific Exploration: Merton Sandler, Roger Pinde. Taylor & Francis 2003. Available at: http://www.amazon.com/Wine-Scientific-Exploration-Merton-Sandler/dp/0415247349. Accessed December 9, 2014.

7. Graney MJ. Happiness and Social Participation in Aging. J. Gerontol. 1975;30(6):701-706. doi:10.1093/geronj/30.6.701.

8. Fowler JH, Christakis NA. Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ 2008;337(dec04_2):a2338. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338.

9. Steptoe A, Wardle J. Positive affect measured using ecological momentary assessment and survival inolder men and women. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 2011;108(45):18244-8. doi:10.1073/pnas.1110892108.

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