Friday, March 18, 2011

In Vino Veritas - Wine drinking and mortality

As a prelude to your possible weekend libations, I thought I would note that in a recent issue of PNAS Francisco Ayala offers a brief history  of wine grape cultivation from ancient to modern times, and provides this summary on the health effects of wine consumption.
The top country producers and consumers of wine are Italy, France, and Spain. The United States is fourth in production but largest in total consumption because of its large population. The average consumption per person in the United States, although it is gradually increasing, is about one glass per week compared with nearly one glass per day in the three Mediterranean countries, where it is slowly decreasing. In wine consumption per person, the United States ranks 57th in the world.

In 1819, an Irish physician, Dr. Samuel Black, attributed the much lower prevalence of angina pectoris in France than in Ireland to the “French habits and modes of living”. There is now a wealth of evidence that moderate drinking of wine, particularly red, decreases the risk for mortality. A plot of risk for dying against alcohol consumption yields a J-shaped curve, showing that moderate drinkers outlive both teetotalers and heavy drinkers and that teetotalers outlive heavy drinkers (see figure). The beneficial effects of moderate red wine drinking are often attributed to resveratrol and other polyphenols, antioxidants derived from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. Beneficial health effects include, first and foremost, lowered risk for cardiovascular disease but also for some forms of cancer, stroke and other cerebrovascular accidents, type 2 diabetes, macular degeneration, Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, kidney stones and gallstones, bone density, hip fracture, and other diseases.

The J-shaped relationship between wine drinking and risk for death. (One glass of red wine contains approximately 10 grams of alcohol.)

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