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Thursday, February 3, 2022



End of Article. 

But pursuing an answer to that question is fodder for many such investigations. 

Maybe wins every time. But the sake of good cheer, the following is an entertaining article, which appeared in The Wall Street Journal. 

GUEST BLOG / By Lettie Teague, wine columnist, The Wall Street Journal.—At the end of recent visit to my gastroenterologist, he handed me a list of prescribed foods. “What about wine?” I asked, noting its absence. 

“Red wine is good for you,” he said. “And white?” I inquired. “White wine is just alcohol,” he replied. Many wine drinkers believe that my doctor is right. Indeed, just about every one of the friends whom I surveyed declared that red wine is healthier than white—though few could say why. 

But is red wine actually more healthful than white wine? 

And is either one truly healthy? 

The reports indicating the health benefits of red wine are many—and speculative, according to Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, a wine chemist and director of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California, Davis. 

All talk no data

Dr. Waterhouse further explained that there isn’t really data to support the notion that red wine is more healthy than white. 

To establish that, Dr. Waterhouse said, it would be necessary to truly separate the two wine types in an independent study. For example, researchers could look at two towns; the citizens of one would drink only red wine and the citizens of the other would drink only white. There would have to be a third town, as well, where the citizens drank neither red nor white, as a control. 

It was an intriguing idea, even if I couldn’t imagine a town whose entire citizenry would willingly give up drinking wine.

On a more serious note, Dr. Waterhouse acknowledged that many studies over the years have seemed to indicate that red wine has certain health benefits thanks to a group of compounds called polyphenols, such as resveratrol, which is believed to have heart-protective qualities. 

White wine contains some resveratrol but less of it than red wine does. Red wine also contains compounds white wine does not. “There are many studies which suggest a diet high in polyphenols has health benefits,” said Dr. Waterhouse. 

“The issue that is not definitive is a direct epidemiological study (a comparison of red wine drinkers vs. non, and their health outcomes) that shows red wine drinkers are healthier.” Reports indicating the benefits of red wine are many—and speculative. Dr. Waterhouse flagged two studies that showed modest benefits to drinking alcohol. 

--A 1997 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology took the form of a questionnaire presented over several years to almost 129,000 members of a prepaid health program that included men and women, nondrinkers, light drinkers and heavy drinkers. It concluded that “(1) drinking ethyl alcohol apparently protects against coronary disease, and (2) there may be minor additional benefits associated with drinking both beer and wine, but not especially red wine.” 

--The second study, published in the American Society for Nutrition in 2007, investigated the cardioprotective potential of both red and white wine among a group of 35 women over two four-week periods (with two four-week breaks or “washout periods”). It concluded that moderate wine consumption is cardioprotective because it is “associated with beneficial effects on various inflammatory pathways...” 

I contacted Dr. Erik Skovenborg, a Danish general practitioner and founding member of the Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board, for his thoughts on the red versus white question. “The problem with the widespread hype of resveratrol is that the many beneficial effects of that particular substance have been found in test tube studies in the lab and studies with animals, fish, etc.,” he wrote in an email. 

Dr. Skovenborg believes that the white wine versus red wine question is also difficult to answer because of “confounding issues like possible lifestyle choices of people preferring white wine versus people preferring red wine.” 

As Dr. Waterhouse noted, there are simply too many variables. 

 Dr. Eric Rimm, director of the cardiovascular epidemiology program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has studied alcohol and health for three decades. 

While many studies seem to show certain health benefits to drinking red wine, he noted, many of those studies lasted just a few weeks or months. “There isn’t any conclusive science that says there is a true benefit of red wine over white,” Dr. Rimm said. “There’s clearly not one right answer. It’s not like asking ‘Should you smoke or not smoke?’” 

He also pointed out that red wine has considerably fewer polyphenols than, say, dark chocolate or blueberries. Dr. Rimm did turn up a study out of Barcelona, published in 2019, that included 38 men who were 46-77 years old and “at high cardiovascular risk” due to obesity, hypertension and other factors. They consumed 30 grams of alcohol daily in the form of Andalusian aged white wine or gin. (In the U.S., 14 grams of alcohol is about the average for what is considered a standard drink.) 

The results suggested some cardioprotective benefit to moderate consumption of Andalusian aged white wine specifically. The study noted that the wine was chosen because it contained polyphenols, the gin because it did not. 

What if it isn’t about polyphenols at all? 

Dr. Rusty Gaffney, a retired ophthalmologist who has studied wine and health (and writes the newsletter the PinotFile), noted an article that showed white wine drinkers may be overserving themselves. 

According to “Half Full or Empty: Cues that Lead Wine Drinkers to Unintentionally Overpour,” published in 2013 in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, researchers found that, on average, white wine pours were 9.2% more generous than red wine pours. (Other factors associated with larger servings in this study: pouring into a wider glass and holding the glass in the hand as opposed to setting it on a table for the pour.) 

So, do white wine drinkers have a less healthy lifestyle than that of red wine drinkers? Is it a matter of fewer polyphenols, or is there simply a lack of white wine research? And if neither white wine or red wine is particularly “healthy,” does it even matter to most wine drinkers? 

I wonder how many people really drink wine for its purported health benefits. Is it about health or pleasure? Let’s just say that my own reasons for drinking wine are very much in line with those of Dr. Rimm. “Maybe the conversation shouldn’t be driven by health but by how it would make your food more flavorful,” he said. “What wine makes it taste better?” 

Regarding the choice between red and white, Dr. Rimm wisely advised: “Sometimes it’s dictated by dinner.”


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