Seeking good health? Think fluids.
Thursday, January 28, 1999
Two thousand years ago, China''s first emperor Qin Shi Huang Di died from imbibing arsenic-laden potions in his search for an elixir that would give him immortality and longevity. Nearly 500 years ago, Ponce de Leon braved crossing the Atlantic Ocean to the New World in a little wooden ship in his search for the fountain of youth.
In fact, both men could have begun their quest for health and well-being in the wine cellar.
Wine has been around for thousands of years. Viticulture is believed to have been practiced by the Egyptians as early at 3500 BC. It exists in ancient Greek and Hebrew literature. The Greeks even had a god of wine, Bacchus. Today, medical researchers are finding that wine in moderation does indeed have health benefits that can help you live healthier and longer.
According to Elizabeth Holmgren, director of research and education for the Wine Institute in San Francisco, studies have shown that wine reduces risk of coronary disease and stroke. Other recent studies also point to reduced risk of kidney stones in women, lower incidence of dementia and Alzheimer''s disease, lower risk of macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness for those over 65), reduced risk of adult-onset diabetes, and reduced digestive disorders.
Red wine in particular is being credited with producing many of the protective effects on the human body. The research is international and the findings generally consistent.
"Just a handful of years ago we thought of tannins and other phenolic compounds as elements that gave wine its flavor, color and character," says Holmgren. "Today we know that some of these are also powerful antioxidants capable of preventing disease."
The watchword in the studies and in the wine industry is consumption in moderation. "That means one, possibly two glasses of wine a day," says Bill Anderson, winemaker at Chateau Julien Winery in Carmel. "High amounts of alcohol are not good for your system."
Anderson, like the Wine Institute, promotes wine as a mealtime beverage. "Wine should be a tool to help us talk to and relate to each other. Good food, good wine, clean water help you do that," says Anderson. "If food becomes a distraction, then it becomes a problem. The same goes for wine."
But not everyone believes wine consumption is a good thing. Until a year ago, Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital patients on regular diets had wine as a menu option, says Cynthia Poole, chief clinical dietitian at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.
"We took it off the menu," says Poole. "Some of the things about wine that have been demonstrated are encouraging in moderation. But we don''t always hear about the huge problem with alcohol-related diseases. It can wreak havoc with the liver and stomach.
"Wine is not necessarily beneficial for all," she continues. "We tend to forget one of the biggest problems in this country is alcoholism."
Instead, Poole says those seeking health and well-being should eat more fruits and vegetables. Researchers, she notes, have isolated a multitude of compounds in fruits and vegetables, including tannins, antioxidants and others--like those in wine.
"As we eat more fruits and vegetables," notes Poole, "we tend to cut down on the empty calories and nutrient-poor foods."
Dr. Abraham H. Kryger of the Preventive Medicine Clinic in Monterey agrees. "For increasing long life and immune system function and health, fruits and vegetables are most important."
Kryger cites a long list of chemical compounds, including antioxidants, beta carotene, lycophenes, luteins, various pigments and phytonutrients, etc. The bottom line, according to Kryger, is that these compounds stimulate the body''s immune system and the natural "killer cells" that fight off diseases, decreasing risk of heart disease, cancer, and other ailments.
Because they are more concentrated, Kryger says fruit juices are even healthier. But Kryger cautions they should be juices freshly extracted from raw foods, not canned or processed juices. "Juice bars and spas," he comments, "are doing a booming business."
Not ready to give up your glass of wine a day? Kryger acknowledges that wine has been used historically as a digestive aid and scientific literature is showing that a moderate amount decreases heart disease and stroke. "It''s not the alcohol," he says, "but what it''s made from--grapes. There really are scientifically proven components that have health benefits in wine, fruit and vegetable juices.
"Three glasses a day--a glass of wine, a glass of carrot juice and a glass of apple juice--give as many nutrients as people think they get when they take supplements," says Kryger. "As a fourth glass, take acidophilus cultured milk or low-fat buttermilk. It''s a wonderful food loaded with energy and lots of nutrients."
Kryger notes that other fruit juices are being shown to contain health benefits, namely cranberry, blueberry and others. Green and black tea, high in tannin, is high on his list. So is kefir, a yogurt drink which promotes intestinal health.
Still, Kryger cautions against overdoing it. "Everything can be taken to excess, even carrot juice," he says. "Drink too much alcohol, you hurt the liver."
And, if none of the above liquids appeals to you, Kryger suggests water. "Most people do not drink enough water," he says, adding that all liquids count toward the recommended eight glasses of fluid per day. "You don''t have to buy [water] in a bottle," he adds. "There is no evidence that drinking bottled water is any healthier than water from the tap. Most bottled waters come from springs in the ground," he explains. "It''s the same as tap water but not chlorinated. You can filter it for taste. What people are paying for water in a bottle is ridiculous. Drinking bottled water is not essential to health. Drinking water is." cw