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In Vino Veritas (and Health?)

With the holiday season upon us, we thought it might be helpful to perform some healthy rationalizations for our alcohol consumption. Yay!

Now, obviously, people have been getting intoxicated for many millennia (animals will seek out fermenting fruit, too, so it’s not an “unnatural” desire by any means), and that includes our beloved Grok. Neither a teetotaler nor a raging drunk, Grok probably limited his consumption to very rare occasions: namely, whenever he happened across a stash of fermenting fruit. See, all evidence suggests that the purposeful production of alcoholic beverages didn’t begin until around 10,000 BC – pretty much in line with our estimations of the advent of agriculture. Indeed, the process of purposeful fermentation could be said to run against Primal ideals – our commitment to fresh, whole foods, free of artificial additives or manmade machinations – especially nowadays, with enormous industrial factories dedicated to churning out millions of gallons of beer and liquor. That said, fermentation itself is a wholly natural occurrence; beer factories and whiskey mills simply exploit and amplify the process.

So where does that leave us? Are we to stick to fallen fruit for our buzzes? Maybe Mark could license his own brand of “Primal Pilsner”? Perhaps, but unless you have access to a steady cache of rotting fruit, or Mark starts brewing grain-less beer (a tall order), a better alternative would be to just drink wine (especially red wine).

Of all the mainstream alcohols, the process of creating wine is the simplest, the most natural – the spirit most in line with the Primal spirit. First of all, it comes from fruit (good) rather than grains (like beer or most liquors). Wine also pairs excellently with both food and company, making it ideal for communal gatherings and good times (after all, living Primally is about enjoying life [7]). Wine production may have changed in size and scope from the early days, but the actual process is largely the same. Pick grapes, crush grapes, strain seeds/skins/pulp, let liquid sit in barrels for about a year. Various harmless additives or chemicals can be added, but by and large the end result is just enhanced grape juice.

More than for its intoxicating properties and its (relatively) Primal status, you should also consider drinking red wine for the health benefits. Yes, health benefits. You often hear the “a glass a day is good for you” spiel (which is true) repeated, but rarely hear any justifications. Well, with these three new studies you’re in luck today.

Justification #1: Possible Omega-3 Boost

A new study examining the drinking, dietary, and medical habits of citizens from regions in Italy, Britain, and Belgium sought to clarify the already-documented link between alcohol consumption and prevalence of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood [8]. By taking three disparate sets of people with vastly different eating and drinking habits, the researchers were able to show that moderate consumption of red wine seemed to increase the concentration of omega-3s. There was a marked increase of omega-3s regardless of the alcohol consumed – beer, wine, or other liquors – but wine had a greater overall effect, even accounting for alcohol potency. This means that something other than alcohol is contributing; scientists suspect the polyphenols in wine (especially red wine) are the main culprits.

Justification #2: Anti-Aging Effect?

A group of Harvard Medical School biologists recently discovered [9] that a chemical in red wine might protect chromosomes from aging. Resveratrol is a minor ingredient in red wine, but it activates a protein called sirtuin that protects cells from its own DNA. That may sound strange, but inside every cell are huge spools of DNA, a tiny fraction of which are in use at any given time; the rest of the volatile DNA is kept under wraps by sirtuin. But when a chromosome experiences a double break in its DNA, sirtuin is dispatched to repair it – effectively leaving its original post of repressing a cell’s DNA. The freed DNA can wreak havoc on a cell, and scientists think this is when aging occurs. As it stands now, the levels of resveratrol in red wine may be too low to really affect sirtuin levels, but this does open the door to further research. In the mean time, drink up!

Justification #3: Alzheimer’s Enemy

A team of UCLA and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine researchers have shown [10] that the polyphenols in red wine block the formation of proteins that build the plaques long-thought to destroy brain cells and promote senility and Alzheimer’s. Not only do they prevent the formation of new plaques; they reduce the toxicity of existing plaques, thus helping to prevent further cognitive degeneration. Researchers used polyphenols derived from grape seeds to block Aß40 and Aß42 (the offending proteins in question) from forming toxic plaque in mice nerve cells, representing the first visual confirmation of a long held theory about polyphenols and Alzheimer’s disease.

Justification #4: It’s Fun and Delicious

And isn’t that enough? (Well… almost.)

RobW [11], jenny downing [12] Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: How Does Alcohol Figure in to the Primal Blueprint? [13]

Red Wine: Fat Oxidation Damage Control [14]

Red Wine Reduces Signs of Aging [15]