In Vino Veritas (and Health?)

Wine DrinkerWith 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).

Wine Fermentation

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). 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. 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 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 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, jenny downing Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

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

Red Wine: Fat Oxidation Damage Control

Red Wine Reduces Signs of Aging

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43 thoughts on “In Vino Veritas (and Health?)”

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  1. Sold. Red wine’s about the only drink I feel comfortable with anyway, so this is music to my ears.

    Unfortunately we cannot necessarily rely on wine manufacturers to follow simple processes or use simple ingredients, as I discovered when I watched a program called What’s in your wine recently in the UK. There is an accompanying article.

    Since alcohol manufacturers are not obliged to list their ingredients, companies can add all kinds of crap with impugnity. So I guess even with red wine, it’s important to find a brand you can trust. The article mentions a Californian wine producer called Randall Grahm who now lists all the ingredients in his wine – I’ll be looking out for his products.

  2. As a confirmed cheapskate I am always looking for good, but delicious, quality red wines, say under $10/bottle. I especially like to stray from the most popular varieties whenever possible. This might be a great forum for people to share some of their favorites. Who’s first?

  3. I am a total wino myself. I loved being able to justify it too! I actually am trying to get into making my own wine.

    The SoG

  4. I have been drinking a local organic wine recently but otherwise Gigondas and Bandol are two of my favourite reds 🙂

  5. I have heard of Gigondas being a good French red to try but have yet to see it in any of my limited local stores. I will definitely put it on my list though…thanks Jedi! Will also watch for Bandol…again, a new variety to me.

  6. You really can’t beat Mark West Pinot for the price. I get it at Cost Plus or BevMo. Really quality bottle of wine for a great price.
    For white I like Rock Rabbit Syrah…again, a really great bottle of wine, better than most above their price point.

  7. Andrew, grape juice does have similar phenol/antioxidant benefits, but in my book, the huge amount of sugars you need to consume to get the same benefifts make the wine a better choice for me.

  8. I wish I loved the red wines as much as I love chardonnay. Not to mention red wine does terrible things to my histamine level. If anyone’s got any suggestions that could help combat the histamines so I could make the switch from white to red, I’m all ears.

  9. I have a few glasses of red wine almost every night. I’m sure the hard core wine snobs will roll their eyes at this – but I’ve found that that you can actually get decent (not great, but not cool aid) box wine now.

    Easily under $10 a bottle when you work the price out, and you’re not obliged to drink (or waste) the entire bottle.

    Regarding wine vs grape juice. While there are some specific benefits to wine, I believe the alcohol itself (in moderate levels) has been implied to have some health benefits.

  10. I’ve read that with Resveratrol you really need long exposed contact with grape skins in order to have a useful amount in the final fluid — which is why grape juice doesn’t work. Also, you need a lot of them, which is why just eating grapes also doesn’t work so well (for Resveratrol). I’m always suspicious when scientists find something so small has such a big effect.

    Another point that I’ve been pondering (without benefit of science) is the “French” paradox of drinking. After spending a lot of time in southern europe, what I’ve noticed is the use of wine as a digestif — that is only drinking with food. I’ve hypothesized that the wine/alcohol is doing something in the digestive track that may have long term benefits — rather than a specific compound. the only science I’ve seen is that alcohol does irritate your stomach lining and so makes acid production earlier — something that may help when eating meat.

  11. I really do “enjoy” a glass of red wine. It’s my preference over Chardonnay, i think it tastes better!!!

  12. The “house” wines in my house are Greg Norman Cabernet Merlot ($11.28 at Sam’s Club), Jacob’s Creek Shiraz ($7 most places, bought a bunch for $5 on sale last week) and a new one Golden Kaan Syrah from S Africa ($10 – $11 at Fresh Market). We keep plenty of these bottle around, at least 3 or 4+ of each.

  13. I’ve been having a little bit of a setback lately switching to 100% primal, thanks for reminding me that one of my favorite things is also one of Grok’s favorite things!

    Un-cork the bottle!

  14. Charlie, there’s a good deal of research that shows that wine with dinner might immediately counteract (in the stomach)possible negative effects of cooked meat (HCAs, Maillards, etc) which might further help explain the French paradox.

  15. Very interesting!!!! I think I will stick to red wine on those social occasions that I do indulge from now on. Its so much more classy anyway.

  16. I used to drink a small glass of red everyday, almost religiously, but stopped completely after I watched the Channel 4 documentary that Methuselah mentioned. Made my toes curl.

    1. Don’t let mainstream media scare you and make you change your ways!

  17. Here are a few of my favorites:

    Robert Hall Rhone de Robles
    Midnight Cellars Full Moon Red
    Razor’s Edge Shiraz

    And found this one after a fun trip to Napa this summer. The winery is a castle!

    Castello di Amorosa 2004 Merlot

  18. This was so encouraging for me to read. Balancing 2 kids and a business, a glass of wine at the end of the day is therapeutic to me. That’s my preference. My husband, however, enjoys screwdrivers – I told him it’s not as good for him as wine. Am I right? Is it bad if you have an 8 oz OJ + vodka every other day?

    1. You’re right, based on the carbs and calories alone. Most red wines are around 110 calories and 6 or so grams of carbs per serving versus around 180 calories and 25 carbs in a screwdriver, depending on how strong the drink is made. And as said in the artical, most liqour, vodka included, is made from grains or starchy vegetables. Although, it is worth noting that most hard liqour does have zero grams of carbs, although lacks the reservatol content.

  19. Resveratrol is also great for your heart. I think the real reason to drink wine is number 4 =)

  20. Ive been primal for 26 days, only lost 5 pounds. Could drinking a glass of wine most nights be why i am not seeing better result? Or is it going to take another month for my body to realize what i am doing. No cheating other than wine. The wine has helped me through and my bloodwork indicates normal bloodsugar levels.