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Wine and Health – An Introduction

The use of wine and our strong beliefs about its health benefits, despite the abstainers and detractors, is probably as old as wine itself dating back to the earliest civilizations in the ancient world. In Mesopotamia around the third millennium BC, the Babylonians believed that wine had medicinal and healing effects and was considered so pure and free from contamination that it was preferred along with beer to water. In Ancient Egypt, over two thousand years BC, wine also became a common ingredient in “prescription medicines” to treat various ailments. Medicines were prepared using other ingredients, such as water and especially those derived from medicinal plants.

And stories abound from the Far East, where the Chinese laced wine with animal parts to make medicines to cure almost any ailment. Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who had a keen sense of the physiological and metabolic reactions in the human body, not only used wine as a prescription medicine in Ancient Greece, but pioneered it as an antiseptic for treating wounds.

The link between wine and its medicinal and therapeutic benefits became stronger through the different eras and from the Middle Ages to modern times. So compelling was the link that after the declining death rate of convicts and emigrants treated with wine on ships bound for Australia in the early nineteenth century, it prompted the establishment of vineyards and wineries by British doctors throughout the rest of the century. Many such wineries have grown into global enterprises responsible for some of the world’s largest wine productions. For example, Lindemans and Penfolds were founded in the early 1840s by Drs. Henry J. Lindeman and Christopher R. Penfold, respectively.

But as wine became an integral part of religions from Biblical times and the evils of alcohol took root in societies, wine, its health benefits, and its sociological effects became highly controversial and gave birth to the temperance movement against alcohol in colonial America. . In 1916, federal health authorities removed alcohol from the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP), “the official public standard-setting authority for all prescription and over-the-counter drugs and other health care products manufactured or sold in the United States.” Then in 1920, the Volstead Act was enacted under the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution making the manufacture, sale, importation, and distribution of alcohol illegal, which lasted until 1933 when the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified to repeal National Prohibition . During Prohibition, consumption of alcohol and homebrew for personal use was still permitted, although each state and often cities or counties were left to implement further control according to local needs. Wine for sacramental and medicinal uses was also excluded. In Canada, the provinces had already begun implementing prohibition laws in 1917.

Much research on the health benefits of wine has been documented especially since the nineteenth century. But the temperance movement was strong and had gained renewed momentum in the 1980s by advocating alcohol’s public health evils. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a highly influential organization, was first established in 1980. Then, during Ronald Reagan’s first term as president in the 1980s, First Lady Nancy Reagan launched the awareness campaign for the “Just Say No” drugs, which of course included alcoholic beverages. Senator James Strom Thurmond, whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 1993 and whose wife later became an alcoholic, has long been a staunch anti-alcohol advocate. He led the charge to implement (in 1988) the now-famous warning on the labels of all wines sold in the US. ) the text reads as follows:

GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Drinking alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive or operate machinery and may cause health problems.

But, there was a major breakthrough in 1991 when the French scientist Dr. Serge Renaud publicized his theory of the French paradox, which observed that the French have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), which is the leading cause of death in industrialized countries. despite having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats found in, for example, eggs, dairy products and especially cheese and meat. Renaud’s work led to sales of red wine in the US and renewed interest in the health benefits of wine when CBS broadcast the French Paradox Active TV segment 60 minutes the same year. The French Paradox, the countless epidemiological studies and laboratory studies and experiments, such as those of the famous Kaiser-Permanente cardiologist, Dr. Arthur Klatsky, argue for J- or U-shaped relationships between alcohol consumption and mortality. More specifically, they showed that moderate alcohol consumption resulted in a lower mortality rate compared to abstainers and heavy drinkers. Also, moderate consumption has also been linked to a lower rate of morbidity (diseases).

Moderate consumption is generally defined as representing 14 g of pure alcohol (ethanol) per day that can be obtained from 148 mL (5 fl oz) of twelve percent alcohol wine – carefully following the “two glasses per day” guideline, or from 355 mL (12 fl oz) of 5 percent alcohol beer or from 44 mL (1½ fl oz) of forty percent alcohol. And to enjoy and maximize the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, consumption should be daily and not averaged out e.g. drinking seven times the recommended amount at a party on a Saturday night and should form part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise.

Since 1999, wine intended for the US market could then be labeled with TTB approval with directional health statement directing consumers to “consult [their] family physician on the health benefits of wine consumption” or request the publication of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans “to learn the effects of wine consumption on health.” But Senator Thurmond and temperance advocates such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and MADD struck back and effectively forced the TTB in 2003 to defeat the label guidance statements on the grounds that they were inherently misleading and confusing and gave the impression that the government endorsed the health benefits of alcohol consumption which encouraged consumers to imbibe further. After all, the whole principle of alcohol control is that wine as well as beer and distilled spirits are considered intoxicants and not drugs.

The winery, backed by such trade organizations as the Wine Institute and the American Winemakers Association (AVA), lobbied federal agencies for more meaningful health claims and reached a compromise. Now under the authority of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA), the new TTB regulations state in part that:

A specific health claim on a label or in an advertisement is considered misleading unless the claim is true and adequately supported by scientific evidence. suitably detailed and specific in relation to the categories of persons to whom the claim applies; adequately discloses the health risks associated with both moderate and higher levels of alcohol consumption; and describes the categories of people for whom any level of alcohol consumption may cause health risks.

Such requirements have made it nearly impossible to obtain approval to include health claims, prescriptive or substantive, on labels or advertisements, specifically that the claims must contain a disclaimer “advising consumers that the statement should not encourage the consumption of alcohol for health reasons,… According to Richard Mendelson at From Darling to Demon: A Legal History of Wine in Americanot a single health claim has been approved by the TTB since the regulation came into force.

But there is hope. Tremendous progress has been made in the past decade in the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. Although – apart from anti-alcohol advocates – we’ve been hungry for more good news about wine’s role in our health, the research is still far from conclusive, given the often contradictory findings and the range of ailments, of the diseases and ailments in which wine is believed to have an effect. The list ranges from heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes to arthritis and osteoporosis and yes, even erectile dysfunction to name just a few. But, of course, much focus has been placed on cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.

In future articles, we’ll examine the science of the complex interactions between wine and health that are so near and dear to our hearts—literally.

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