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Is It the Wine or Is It You?


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On November 17, 1991, an event occurred that caused the single biggest boost for red wine consumption in America.

A Presidential Executive Order to drink up? Free wine distributed nationwide? Wine shops agreeing to stay opened day and night?

None of the above. It was the airing of a segment on Sixty Minutes called The French Paradox. Within a year, red wine sales in the United States skyrocketed 44%.

The essence of the television piece, reported by Morley Safer, was the counterintuitive findings of a French scientist, Dr. Serge Renaud, that the French enjoyed a low incidence of heart disease despite a diet relatively rich in saturated fats because of their love of red wine. Americans began to look at the fermented grape with new appreciation.

Since that fortunate bit of reporting, many health studies have touted the benefits of wine drinking. Science has reinforced that antioxidants, free radicals, resveratrol and other healthful components found in red wine provides protection from heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

But is it the wine itself that creates this life giving benefit?

It seems a new study---conducted by another Frenchman, Dr. Boris Hansel, an endocrinologist who specializes in cardiovascular prevention at Hopital de la Pitie-Salpetrière---claims that moderate wine consumption, indeed, results in a lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease. But it’s not due to the wine.

What’s the connection? The researchers say that people who drink moderately tend to be better educated, have a higher social status, exercise more, suffer less depression and enjoy overall better health than heavy drinkers or teetotalers. A daily glass or two of vino is apparently a reliable marker for an overall healthier lifestyle.

If you are a wine lover, you can pause here and give yourself a shout out, “I told you so!”

The findings of the study were recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and drew the conclusion that a causal relationship between cardiovascular risk and moderate wine drinking does exist, but challenges the idea that wine gets the credit.

The study examined the health status and drinking habits of nearly 150,000 French adults. The volunteers were placed in four categories: teetotalers, low-level drinkers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers. The study revealed it was the low to moderate drinkers that had an overall healthier lifestyle than teetotalers and heavy drinkers.

Previous studies failed to account for the fact that sensible drinkers were more likely to have developed a better approach to life in general; they exercised more, ate more fruit and vegetables and were more likely to engage in activities and exercise that reduced overall tension and stress in their lives.

Specifically, the findings identified that low to moderate male drinkers have less stress and depression, were slimmer, had lower body-mass index, lower fasting triglycerides, lower blood glucose and lower blood pressure. Their female counterparts has slimmer waists, lower blood pressure, higher amounts of good cholesterol (HDL) and lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL).

It is believed that heavy drinkers avoid going to doctors as often as they should. It seems they do not want to be lectured about correcting their bad habits. As a result, they do not enjoy the benefits of regular medical care as much as low to moderate imbibers do.

While the findings of this latest study are good news for wine drinkers, it once again reinforces the time-tested adage, “everything in moderation.”

We’ll drink to that. Cheers!

(John Hagarty writes for Virginia state publications, is a home winemaker and Manager, Special Events for Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly, VA. Visit him at Hagarty-on-Wine.com.

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