It's common knowledge that a glass or two of red wine a night will do more than enhance a great meal or put you to sleep: it can reduce production of "bad" cholesterol, boost "good" cholesterol and reduce blood clotting, all of which will help reduce the risk of heart disease. But recent studies are showing that wine aficionados may also reap even more benefits, from inhibiting tumor development to helping form nerve cells. Here's a roundup of four recent studies that might encourage you to uncork that bottle of merlot:
1. It Can Help Keep You Fit: For senior citizens who are already in shape, moderate alcohol intake can help prevent the development of physical disabilities, according to a new UCLA study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. (The National Institutes of Health recommends no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.) Researchers found that moderate drinkers in a national survey had a lower risk than heavy drinkers or abstainers of developing physical problems that impeded their abilities to walk or dress or groom themselves. But don't take that as a cue to rest easy: the benefits only applied to seniors who were already in good health. Seniors in poor health may already be too close to developing disabilities for the wine to be of much use, researchers said.
2. It May Help Fight Alzheimer's. In animal trials, UCLA researchers found that compounds known as polyphenols, which naturally occur in red wine, can inhibit the development of proteins that deposit in the brain and form the plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease. Polyphenols also are highly concentrated in tea, nuts, berries and cocoa, the researchers, who did the study with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, reported in the November issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The polyphenols block the formation and decrease the toxicity of the Alzheimer's-associated protein deposits, scientists found; they plan to start human clinical trials next.
3. It Boosts Heart-Healthy Omega 3 Levels. Moderate alcohol consumption helps boost the body's omega-3 levels, European researchers report in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The fatty acids are usually derived from fish and help protect against coronary heart disease, but people who consumed alcohol, especially wine, in moderation (one drink for women, two drinks for me) had higher omega-3 levels independent of their fish intake, the researchers found after studying populations in England, Belgium and Italy. They hypothesize that this effect is due in part to polyphenols as well.
4. It May Lower Lung Cancer Risk. Moderate consumption of red wine may decrease the risk of lung cancer in men, researchers reported in the October issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. Analyzing data collected from the California Men's Health Study, they found that each glass of red wine consumed a month correlated with a 2 percent lower lung cancer risk. Men who drank one or two glasses of red wine a day saw a 60 percent reduced lung cancer risk. There were no similar benefits for white wine, beer or liquor drinkers, though, and smokers who drank red wine still, of course, had a higher lung-cancer risk than non-smokers.