Is Wine Really Healthy or Is That a Myth? The Benefits of Wine
You’ve heard that a glass of red wine a day is actually good for you. In fact, some parts of southern Europe, such as France and Italy, have the highest rates of longevity in the world because of how they eat and live. And of course, we know how much those people love their wine. There seems to be a lot of information out there corroborating that theory. But are the benefits of wine applicable to everyone? Are there exceptions you need to know about? What exactly are these benefits of wine that might motivate you to get yourself a little wine collection at home?
Generalizations with regards to health and wellbeing are sometimes dangerous, and even seemingly harmless things, or seemingly universal good advice, should be considered a little more carefully when dealing with certain cases – such as with debilitating conditions like the advanced stages of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and other challenging health issues.
In fact, we find that these articles that just throw out such ideas without too much scrutiny can cause more harm than good, as incomplete information can be taken as medical advice by those who should definitely not be drinking any alcohol at all, especially those with some form of alcoholism, or those who replace other more important health changes, such as exercise, with the ease of adding a glass of wine to their daily regiment.
This is why before you start grabbing your wine glass at dinner, you need to have a well-rounded view of both the benefits and the risks of drinking a glass of wine a day.
Also, we’ll need to pay closer attention to the studies themselves that have come out about the benefits of wine, as some of the other factors involved may play a bigger role than the wine itself does.
For example, those who can afford good wines to drink on a daily basis may also be of a socioeconomic status that allows them better health care, more access to organic foods, less stressful living conditions, and other amenities than those who cannot afford good wine.
Let’s now take a look at some of the different opinions and studies and then you can make up your own mind as to how you’d like to use this information.
Red Wine, Heart Health, and the French Paradox
The French Paradox is a term used to describe the observation that even though the French population, in general, tends to eat and drink things high in cholesterol and saturated fats, they have relatively lower rates of death by coronary heart disease. To try to understand this paradox, researchers have sometimes sought out the differing factors in nutrition that people from Southern European countries have with those of other countries that consume a lot of cholesterol and saturated fats. And one of those factors was flagged as frequent red wine consumption.
And so, it was suggested that there are some heart-protective qualities in red wine that counterbalance the increase in cholesterol and saturated fat in the diet. Polyphenols, especially the compound resveratrol, seem to be the main contributors to cardiovascular disease prevention. Their antioxidant capacity is the main benefit they provide for hypertension, metabolic issues, endothelial dysfunction, and dyslipidemia (an abnormal amount of fat in the blood). These antioxidant actions seem to somehow decrease the risk of ischemic stroke, myocardial infarction, and heart failure.
Other studies suggest that wine can help dilate arteries, increase blood flow, boost HDL (good cholesterol) levels, and slow the growth of cancer in breast, prostate and liver tissue. There are even studies showing that wine can help decrease the risk of osteoporosis, improve memory, and lower body mass.
One study by Harvard Medical School shows that premenopausal women who drink a glass of wine a day are 40% less at risk of developing type 2 diabetes than women who don’t. Could it be possible that one of the benefits of wine is the reduction of insulin resistance?
With so many benefits, it is no wonder that it is being recommended as part of a healthy daily routine by those who have loved it before knowing its benefits. But great caution and more testing are needed. This is no magic bullet, and the risks of alcohol overuse are much more grave than the benefits you can gain from increasing alcohol use.
The other reason you need to take this with a grain of salt is, as we already mentioned, the information is slightly confusing. There may be other factors that are involved in the lifestyle of those who drink good red wine on a daily basis, including the French population – the subjects of the “French Paradox” – that play important, yet undisclosed roles.
First of all, there has been some skepticism that the reporting of heart disease in France and other countries is actually less than the real rates. Secondly, in comparing one country to another, you have to take a closer look at the habits of the consumer, not just the amount of alcohol consumed.
For example, the benefits of wine differ greatly if you drink one glass a day throughout the week, as the French usually do, as opposed to binging on wine once or twice a week, as happens in other countries, like Ireland. And so, comparing these two styles, you will find the first relatively healthier than the second.
But is it healthier than no alcohol at all? That’s a good question. Would it not just be better to lower the consumption of saturated fats rather than adding wine to try to counter the effects? These are all questions that need addressing if we are going to have a clearer picture of the matter.
Another important distinction we need to make is that heart disease comes in various forms. While it seems to really be the case that the compounds in red wine do have some protective antioxidant qualities against heart attacks, they may actually raise the risk for other heart problems, such as irregular heartbeats and atrial fibrillation.
And finally, many studies have conflicting results. For example, in some studies, even moderate drinking seems to increase the risk of breast cancer, rather than decrease it. Also, it has been found that in some studies that do show there are benefits of wine and alcohol consumption, the drinkers were compared to abstainers who had a history of heavy drinking, which put them at a health disadvantage already as compared to those who moderately drink. Therefore, it is important to only take the results comparing moderate drinkers with abstainers who have no history of heavy drinking.
Benefits of Wine for AFS
AFS is the state when chronic stress has dysregulated your adrenal glands; making your anti-stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, get out of balance. Your adrenals are the first line of defense against stress of any kind – whether physical or psychological. But they are part of a much larger network, a global system that responds to stress with many different organs and system. This is your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response.
Your NEM is composed of six different circuits: the hormone, the metabolism, the cardionomic, the neuroaffect, the inflammation, and the detoxification responses.
So how does alcohol, specifically wine, fit into this picture?
If your adrenal glands and NEM are in tip-top shape, and you are not suffering from another condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, etc. then you are probably someone who can handle alcohol and even enjoy the benefits of wine. All you need to do is just check with your doctor beforehand and then make sure you stick to only one or two glasses a day if you’re a man, and only one glass a day if you’re a woman.
Do not “save” your quota for the weekend and then drink all of it then as that will not give you any of the benefits and in fact will put a lot of stress on your system, including your adrenals and NEM.
But if you suffer from adrenal fatigue then our advice is to avoid alcohol until you are fully recovered. The problem is that most people actually do suffer from adrenal fatigue at some point in their lives without even knowing it. So, the first thing you want to do is check the list of symptoms and see if any of them resonate. Here are a few of the common ones:
- Inability to fall asleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- Easily gaining weight
- Difficulty losing weight
- Low libido
- Fertility issues
- Mild depression
- Irregular heartbeat
- Inability to handle stress
- Brain Fog
If you have AFS, you have most likely been experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time, and alcohol is known to stimulate the release of adrenaline when you are stressed. This will worsen your symptoms of anxiety and the “fight or flight” mode.
If you are stressed to the point where you are beginning to see the signs of AFS, this is the worst time to begin drinking, and it is also one of the riskiest times for people who drink. Drinking alcohol relieves the edge of stress momentarily. And many people find that drinking moderately during phases of stress helps them cope. But what they don’t realize is the damage this may cause and the increased risk of becoming a heavy drinker that is looming.
Within the NEM, almost every circuit is affected by the use of alcohol. The cardionomic, as we have covered, can either be helped or harmed, depending on the original state. The neuroaffect also, depending on whether you are in a state of stress or not. Alcohol makes the hormonal system release certain chemicals to cope with it. But perhaps the most important one is the detoxification response.
The liver is the clearinghouse of the body, and alcohol is not seen as a friend by it. When alcohol enters your system, your liver immediately goes to work to get rid of it and its byproducts as quickly as possible.
Granted, if you are fit and strong, you may be able to extract some of the benefits of wine before your liver goes to work on pushing it out of the system. But even then, your liver is put under stress, and in our modern lives, the liver is under constant overload to get rid of all the toxins coming in from the environment, bad diets, stress, medications, and other chemicals around the house.
Now imagine your detoxification system is already sluggish due to AFS and a dysregulated NEM response. You may end up with an accumulation of toxins in your system, and even just one glass of wine a day will be seen as another huge load at the back of the line.
And if you suffer from recurrent hypoglycemia, as is the case with AFS, or if you have full-blown diabetes, drinking any alcohol can be quite dangerous. That’s because one of the responsibilities of the liver is to release a little bit of stored glucose while you are sleeping in order to run your biological systems. But if it is busy with breaking down and getting rid of alcohol, this glucose release takes secondary priority, and you are at risk of having a hypoglycemic episode during sleep – a potentially dangerous condition that should be avoided as much as possible.
The bottom line is, the benefits of wine are only benefits if your system is strong and healthy, you are capable of keeping your consumption truly moderate, and you have the clear from your doctor. Otherwise, it is better to stay away until you meet those conditions. Water is always the best option for those who wish to increase their health and wellbeing.
© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Are the benefits of wine worth the risks?
The benefits of wine may indeed aid with things such as the heart, mind, bones, and even cancer. But this must be taken with a grain of salt and the risks understood as well, so you make the right decision for yourself.