PfW logo.

Search PfW
This FREE Wine Education Course Includes: Why Wine? | Wine & Health | Social History | Sensory User's Manual | Grape Growing | Wine Making | Varietal Profiles | Sparkling Wine Wine Information on Reading Labels, Selecting and Buying Wine, Serving and Storing, etc. Taste includes the compiled wine tasting notes from our monthly panel, as well as reports on public tasting events, wherever we attend them, and notices of recurring wine events in Central California. There is also a Food & Wine section with a few wine-friendly recipes. In Aftertaste, see if you agree with our opinions and editorials in Wrath, find our Reading List and pages of Links in Bacchanalia, to discover additional sources of wine information. Contact and sponsor information, short bios of the PfW tasting panel and the stories of PfW's formation and the web site genesis. Return to the starting point.


Wine and Health ... benefits are not without cautions ...

The medical profession has recognized healthful and nutritive properties in wine for thousands of years. On the other hand, societal concerns of abuse, as well as religious taboos, have historically led to campaigns against consumption of any beverage alcohol.

Recent archeological evidence shows wine was in use as a pharmaceutical as early as 3,150 B.C.{1} Hippocrates recommended specific wines to purge fever, disinfect and dress wounds, as diuretics, or for nutritional supplements, around 450 B.C. A French doctor wrote the earliest known printed book about wine in 1410 A.D.

Wine as Rx illustration.Most of the pathogens that threaten humans are inhibited or killed off by the acids and alcohols in wine. Because of this, wine was considered to be a safer drink than much of the available water up until the 18th century.

Wine is a mild natural tranquilizer, serving to reduce anxiety and tension. As part of a normal diet, wine provides the body with energy, with substances that aid digestion, and with small amounts of minerals and vitamins. It can also stimulate the appetite. In addition, wine serves to restore nutritional balance, relieve tension, sedate and act as a mild euphoric agent to the convalescent and especially the aged.

Although wine may be the oldest remedy and prophylactic still in use, there was an entire generation of medical professionals, especially in America, that obtained their medical education during the historical period known as Prohibition. Medical texts for nearly twenty-five years were purged and censored of any mention of alcohol, including wine, for any application other than external. This medical generation became educators to the following one, perpetuating medical ignorance of the potential health benefits of wine.

In the 1970s, under pressure from anti-alcohol special interest groups, the National Institute of Health excluded and suppressed evidence from the Framingham Heart Study that followed 10,000 people over a span of 25 to 50 years and showed moderate drinkers had 50 per cent fewer deaths from coronary disease than non-drinkers.{2}

Only when the television news magazine "60 Minutes" reported in November, 1991, the phenomenon that has come to be known as the French Paradox did popular thinking of wine as medicine rather than toxin begin to return. Typically, the diet of people in Southern France includes a very high proportion of cheese, butter, eggs, organ meats, and other fatty and cholesterol-laden foods. This diet would seem to promote heart disease, but the rate there was discovered to be much lower than in America; herein lies the paradox.

Regular moderate wine drinking was discovered to be the one consistency. Studies in England and Denmark found the occurrence of coronary disease to be much higher in heavy or binge drinkers and (surprise!) even higher in abstainers. It is very important to note that Europeans generally drink wine and water with their meals, while Americans drink milk, iced tea, soft drinks, or coffee. (See "
RX for Society: Wine and Water")
WARNING: Any claims that one particular wine type, or region, or component, or extract can bring better health or extend life are entirely unproven, BOGUS, FALSE, speculative, and solely intended to prey upon ignorance in order to promote commercial sales and profits (a practice formerly known as "selling snake oil").

Moderate consumption of red wine on a regular basis may be a preventative against coronary disease and some forms of cancer. The chemical components thought to be responsible are catechins, also known as flavonoids and related to tannins . Catechins are believed to function as anti-oxidants, preventing molecules known as "free-radicals" from doing cellular damage. One particular form of flavonoid, called oligomeric procyanidin, recently proved to prevent hardening of the arteries.

There are also compounds in grapes and wine (especially red wine, grape juice, dark beers and tea, but absent in white wine, light beers and spirits) called resveratrol and quercetin. Clinical and statistical evidence and laboratory studies have suggested these may boost the immune system, block cancer formation, and possibly protect against heart disease and even prolong life.

One recent study, published in the 2004 year-end edition of the American Journal of Physiology, indicates that resveratrol also inhibits formation of a protein that produces a condition called cardio fibrosis, which reduces the heart's pumping efficiency when it is needed most, at times of stress. More evidence suggests that wine dilates the small blood vessels and helps to prevent angina and clotting. The alcohol in wine additionally helps balance cholesterol towards the good type.

Research is ongoing and it is a mistake for anyone to radically change their consumption pattern based on preliminary data. A study of obese mice showed that large doses of resveratrol prolonged their life spans, but human duplication of this prescription, using wine, would require drinking over 250 gallons per day!{3}

A Harvard study of factors that influence aging, as reported in the May 8, 2003, issue of the journal Nature, has shown that resveratrol extends the life span of yeast cells by 80%. Preliminary results of tests on multi cellular animals are said to be encouraging; study coauthor David Sinclair told Reuters News Agency that "Not many people know about it yet, but those who do have almost invariably changed their drinking habits, that is, they drink more red wine."

Wine might even preserve cognitive function in the elderly. Several European studies have shown the prophylactic effects of regular light to moderate alcohol consumption may include the prevention or postponement of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other forms of dementia. Could wine be the original brain food?

Just as yogurt, another product of fermentation, has digestion-enhancing probiotic benefits from the lactic acid bacteria it contains, red wine can also provide this value.

A study published in January, 2003, in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that moderate, regular consumption of wine or beer decreases the risk of peptic ulcers and may help to rid the body of the bacteria suspected of causing them. Interestingly, both over-consumption, especially of beer, and any regular consumption of spirits at all, even at a low level, seemed to increase the ulcer risks.

The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a 14-year study of over 100,000 women, aged 25 to 42, from 14 states. The Nurses Health Study required participants to complete a questionnaire every two years, detailing lifestyle choices and diagnoses of any medical conditions.

The subjects were categorized into three levels of alcohol consumption. After factoring in such variables as family histories of diabetes and smoking habits, the study found that women who drank regularly and moderately (one or two drinks per day, a total of 15 to 30 grams of alcohol) had a 58% lower likelihood of developing diabetes. Both those that drank more and that drank less had a 20% lower risk than either abstainers or former drinkers.

When preferences for types of alcohol were compared, those who chose beer and wine shared similar levels of risk, but those in who drank spirits and consumed more than 30 grams per day had a 150% higher risk to develop diabetes than even non-drinkers.

The Medical College of Wisconsin conducted an in vitro study in 1988 of the "Survival of enteric pathogens in common beverages" testing the behavior of three common pathogens, including E. coli, Salmonella and Shingella, in popular mealtime beverages, including water, skim milk, cola, diet cola, a sour soft drink, beer and wine, over a two-day period. They found that all three germs had the poorest survival rate in wine. The diet cola and sour mix took 48 hours to become sterile, while beer and cola allowed small numbers of E. coli and Salmonella to survive. Both water and milk allowed the pathogens to grow.{4}

The unique combination of organic compounds in wine was shown in other studies to kill germs in the mouth and throat on contact. When the alcohol and acids were removed, these compounds had better effect, even at concentrations much lower than they occur in wine. Researchers suspect that other elements in wine buffer the impact. Acid in wine tends to soften tooth enamel, so holding wine in the mouth is not recommended. However, waiting 20 minutes or more before brushing teeth after consuming wine is highly recommended.{5}

Other medical studies point to multiple benefits of regular moderate wine drinking that may include lowered risks of stroke, colorectal tumors, skin and other types of cancers, senile dementia, and even the common cold, as well as reduce the effects of scarring from radiation treatments.

Because there are so many factors that influence human health, it is extremely difficult to design scientific studies that make conclusions about either positive or negative effects that potentially result from alcohol consumption. Similarly, long-term observational studies are difficult to control and expensive to conduct. Reports of results are commonly skewed and often sensationalized, one way or the other depending upon the agenda of the publisher. No behavior should be based upon the results, even if completely accurate and unbiased, of any single research program or study.

Over 400 studies worldwide, many of them long-term and in large populations, have concluded that most healthy people who drink any alcohol, including beer, wine, and spirits, regularly and moderately live longer. Other than those obviously at risk for alcoholism, the single group exception, whose members should not consume any alcohol, is pre-menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer.

The keys to the beneficial aspects of drinking alcohol are regularity and moderation. The importance of this pattern of consumption cannot be over-emphasized. An occasional serving is better than none, but even occasional overindulgence can be considerably more harmful than total abstinence.

The nutritional content of wine is minimal. There is no fat, cholesterol, or dietary fiber in any wine. On the other hand, only with overindulgence would anyone reach their Minimum Daily Requirement for calories, carbohydrates, sodium, protein, vitamins or minerals, all of which all wines contain to some mostly insignificant degree. The specific content varies between types, depending upon color, alcoholic strength and residual sugar. The following table estimates the relative nutritive portions of a typical dry red, dry white, and sweet dessert wine serving. Note the Single Serving Size when comparing data.

Dry Red **12.5%
Dry White **12.5%
*Sweet Dessert **18%
6 ounces
6 oz.
3 oz.
8.5 milligrams
8.5 mg.
7.65 mg.
2.9 grams
1.35 g.
10 g.
.28 grams
.14 g.
.17 g.

*based upon a wine with a residual sugar content of 8% (higher sugar increases carbs)
**higher alcohol increases calories | ***wines that are unfined and unfiltered may be somewhat higher in protein

Wine vitamin content is expressed here as a percentage of Estimated Daily Requirements, based on a 2000 calorie diet.
VITAMIN B1 (Thiamin)
VITAMIN B2 (Riboflavin)
VITAMIN B3 (Niacin)
Wines also contain trace amounts of other vitamins and minerals,
but at such low levels that they are insignificant for dietary consideration.

The official recommendation
in the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Fourth Edition, published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is "Advice for today: if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, with meals, and when consumption does not put you or others at risk." This is a rather weak and passive permission, rather than the ringing endorsement moderate wine consumption deserves, according to the vast majority of medical and scientific evidence. It is, however, a progressive leap from the 1990 Guidelines, which said, "wine has no net health benefit", which is the contemporary scientific equivalent of saying "the earth is flat". (see
Wine Politics)

On the other hand, wine is not a cure-all and not everyone should drink wine. There are also circumstances when no one should drink any alcohol. When combined with certain over-the-counter or prescription drugs, for example, alcohol in any form can produce an adverse reaction (see the 5th paragraph under "Headaches" below). Wine should not be given to people with inflammations of the digestive tract, peptic ulcers, liver disease, pancreatitis, kidney or urinary infections, prostate disorders, epilepsy, or alcoholism. As previously mentioned, pre-menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer should abstain from drinking any alcohol, including wine.

Sulfites exist in nature and are also naturally contained in or even added to preserve a very long list of many common foods, including wine, cheese, yogurt and other processed dairy, bread and baked goods, tortillas, dried fruits, dried spices, shellfish, dried seafood, canned, bottled, or frozen fruits and juices, jams and jellies, tofu and other soy protein products, packaged pasta or rice mixes, etc.. The human body actually produces about 1 gram of sulfites daily through normal metabolism.

About 1% of the general population and about 5% of asthma sufferers may react to sulfites. Symptoms commonly include restricted breathing ability to varying degrees from mild to severe, even life-threatening, especially in asthmatics prescribed to steroids. Skin rashes, hives, itching and nausea are relatively rare symptoms for sulfite allergy. Reactions depend on both the sensitivity of the individual and the level of sulfites ingested. Headaches are not a symptom of sulfite reaction, although this is a common folk tale (see next section).

Foods may legally contain sulfites at levels ranging from 6 to 6,000 parts per million. The legal maximum for wine is 350 ppm, but the average content in premium wine is under 40 ppm. White wines are generally higher in sulfites than red wines. Inexpensive wines generally have higher sulfur content than expensive wines. There are no wines that are entirely sulfite-free, even those labeled "organic", since yeast produces sulfites when metabolizing sugar (fermentation).

The best advice is to waste no time thinking about sulfites, unless your personal physician has warned you against them. For a more complete discussion, visit our article on Understanding Wine Labels.

Headaches, affecting some people (estimated to be less than 1% of the human population) during or after consuming wine, may result from individual reactions to one or more of wines' natural compounds. Although clinical trials have produced inconsistent results, red wine is suspected by some sufferers to trigger migraine headaches.

Some clinical evidence has shown that phenolic flavonoids (the same ones that provide anti-oxidant benefits), a component in grape skins related to tannins, to be the most probable culprits. Red wine has a much higher content than white wine of both tannins and flavonoids.

In September, 2006, UC Davis Professor David Mills announced his research in the field of genetic mapping indicates that slightly modified amino acids in red wine are responsible for the headaches. Professor Mills says slight changes in fermentation techniques will be able to solve the problem.

Scientist Dr. Giuseppe Palmisano, doing post-doctoral research in 2010, at the University of Southern Denmark, discovered some common chemistry shared by wine and known allergens. Dr. Palmisano's main interest is studying glycosylation (the formation of compounds bonding carbohydrates to protein) both in allergenics and in metastatic progressions. He developed a sensitive, resilient, and fairly simple test procedure to identify glycoproteins, in order to measure the quantity of cells affected and their level of transformation. Knowing glycosylation also occurs in wine, he tested a Chardonnay and identified 28 separate grape glycoproteins, many sharing great similarity to previously identified allergens present in bananas, kiwis, latex, and tomatoes. Further testing is needed to test the potential human reactions to these compounds. This could ultimately lead to changes in viticulture practices or wine production methods that would render wines less likely to cause allergic reactions.

Chemicals called amines either dilate (histamines) or constrict (tyramines) blood vessels in the brain, either of which may cause headaches in a small segment of the population. Aged and fermented foods such as cheese, sauerkraut, salami, and sourdough bread are high in histamines. Although both red and white wines contain histamines, reds generally have higher content, especially low-acid reds made from grapes grown in warmer areas. Chocolate, vanilla, beans, nuts, bananas, cultured products like cheese and yogurt and fermented products, especially dark beer, soy sauce and red wine are all significant sources of tyramines. Taking antihistamine drugs, either before or after consuming, won't prevent or cure headaches.

The use of either aspirin or acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) either before of after alcohol consumption can seriously damage the lining of the stomach and should be avoided. The combination of acetaminophen and ethanol causes liver damage, so the former should never be used to treat hangover symptoms.

The only way to prevent a hangover is to avoid consuming too much alcohol. One good habit to develop is to match every glass of wine or drink with one full glass of water. Alcohol depletes electrolytes from the body and brain, so "sports" drinks can help also. The worst possible hangover "cure" is "hair of the dog", since hangover is merely the winky-winky-nudge-nudge, socially-tolerant slang term to describe episodic alcoholism withdrawal.

Overindulgence is potentially the worst health problem of consuming wine or any alcoholic beverage. Drinking too much ethanol at one time will cause headaches, nausea, and other symptoms for anyone, regardless of individual tolerance to other compounds in wine. Drinking too much or too fast leads to loss of control and judgment. A glass or two of wine may help relaxation and lower blood pressure, but four or more will raise blood pressure to a level of concern and cause insomnia.

Alcohol enters the bloodstream while it passes from the stomach to the small intestine and continues to the liver which uses an enzyme called dehydrogenase to break down and eliminate alcohol from the body. Evidence suggests factors of body size, muscle mass, food intake, gender, and experience affect one's capacity to resist drunkenness to some degree. On average, a healthy human can metabolize one-half ounce of alcohol per hour. The best rule is to not consume more than one drink (4 ounces of table wine) per hour, regardless of size, sex, or a full stomach.

Practiced in moderation and consumed with food at mealtime, wine drinking may develop cultural and sociological patterns that actually help to prevent alcoholism. The vast majority of healthy people may enjoy wine regularly and moderately as a pleasure that supports and prolongs a gracious life.{6}

Jim LaMar

1. Research by Dr. Patrick McGovern, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum's Biomolecular Archaeology Project, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America article "Ancient Egyptian Wine Jars". RETURN

2. The purpose of the Framingham Heart Study was to determine risk factors and mortality rates for heart disease. Cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption data were both included, because at the time these activities were thought to increase risks. Although the research proved overwhelmingly that moderate alcohol consumption reduced the chance of developing heart problems compared to abstention, the National Institute of Health suppressed this information. Dr Kurt Ellison (ironically raised in a tee-totaling family of Southern Baptists) became involved with the study in 1989 and, along with his French colleague Dr Serge Renaud, exposed the truth on television to reporter Morley Safer on "60 Minutes". RETURN

3. In December, 2010, pharmaceutical manufacturer Glaxo-Smith-Kline suspended clinical trials of a resveratrol-based drug (SRT501) as a prophylaxis for human circulatory health, due to minimal efficacy and potential to exacerbate renal failure. (see Biopharmconsortium BLOG for complete story). RETURN

4. The pathogen survival study was published online by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. RETURN

5. Three studies published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Inhibition of Oral Pathogens Adhesion to Human Gingival Fibroblasts by Wine Polyphenols Alone and in Combination with an Oral Probiotic (2018); Red Wine and Oenological Extracts Display Antimicrobial Effects in an Oral Bacteria Biofilm Model (2014); and Antibacterial Activity of Red and White Wine against Oral Streptococci (2007). RETURN

6. Two organizations' web sites may help to keep pace with new developments regarding wine consumption and health. The International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research is an international group of invited physicians and scientists who are specialists in their fields and committed to balanced and well researched analysis regarding alcohol and health. Alcohol In Moderation was formed in 1981 as an independent organization whose role is to communicate "The Sensible Drinking Message" and to act as a conduit for information from industry, associations, and researchers on relevant legislation, policy, and research. RETURN

Cover of The Science of Healthy Drinking by Gene Ford

"Prince of Pinot" Dr. Rusty Gaffney discussed and summarized The Continuing Debate Over the Health Benefits of Wine in his March 8, 2019 issue.

The late wine writer Gene Ford specialized in researching, reporting, and explaining topics related to alcohol consumption and health in his many articles and books, including The Science of Healthy Drinking.

Wine Cellar Innovations has a page on Health Benefits of Moderate Wine Drinking that provides links to many articles related to wine and health.

Julia Belluz, Science and Health Reporter for summarizes the benefits of regular moderate ethanol consumption in her article, "Wine isn't special: drinking a small amount of any alcohol can be good for your health".

Dr Merry C posted this article, Does Eating Fermented Foods Have Health Benefits? 21 Research Papers Examined on Healthy But Smart's site.

Per-Henrik Mansson sums up then-current findings in his article Eat Well, Drink Wisely, Live Longer, from the November, 2001, online edition of the Wine Spectator. (Note that while this linked articles is several years old, it provides historical and background information.)

Evaluating the Evidence of Wine's Cardioprotection is the topic of this article by Creina Stockley of the Australian Wine Research Institute.

Professor Andrew Waterhouse has an article about Sulfites on his Wine Chemical Composition site at UC Davis.

A very thorough discussion of various aspects of Sulfites is included on the Organic Wine Company web site.




Page created April 9, 1999; last updated May 1, 2019
Protected by Copyscape DMCA Takedown Notice Violation Search
Except as noted, all content, including design, text and images, is property of the site owner.
No part may be reproduced or used in any form without prior documented consent.
All rights reserved under the DMCA of 1998. © by Jim LaMar.