Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wine and Health: It's For Real

This year's 5th International Wine & Heart Health Summit brought prominent scholars in the field from around the world to Walla Walla, Washington. Doctors, health professionals, winemakers and connoisseurs heard experts present laboratory research and human studies that point to the beneficial effects of responsible, moderate wine-drinking on the heart and other vital organs. We liked what we heard.

While there was heated debate about what might account for the variety of benefits observed - from improved vascular health, decreased death and mortality rates from heart disease and the somewhat unexpected benefits in liver health and diabetes, among others - wine's salutary effects appear convincing. To account for the phenomena, many researchers remain revved for resveratrol, a natural plant chemical substance found primarily in grape skins. Because grapes skins remain in contact with crushed red wine grape pulp in red wine-making, red wines have higher average concentrations of resveratrol than white or rosé wines. Other presenters discussed alcohol itself as the suspect agent not only in wine but in other beverages, too. Still others are convinced compounds known as polyphenols, such as procyanidins in red wines, account for the healthful effects observed.

We liked the attitude of Gary Figgins, founder of Leonetti Cellar, best of all: Just drink the wine. Or, we might add for those who don't or can't imbibe, enjoy a handful of red grapes or another food source of these phytonutrients such as dark chocolate, peanuts and certain berries.

Audience and speakers alike were honored by the presence of Serge Renaud, the University of Bordeaux professor and researcher whose life work illuminated not only the French Paradox but also the heart-healthy benefits of a Mediterranean dietary lifestyle.

Our medical appreciation for wine's effects on health has mushroomed since Morley Safer's first 60 Minutes broadcast about the French Paradox in 1991. As revealing as this conference was, the future holds many discoveries yet to be unveiled and debated. In the meantime, ladies, find your favorite daily five-ounce pour and guys, you can have two. Thems the breaks.

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