Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl
From Live Better America
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Is Red Wine Good Medicine?

What are you doing the first week of December 2014? Why not book a plane ticket to Hawaii for the third medical convention devoted entirely to studying one single compound in red wine - resveratrol - and its allegedly positive effects on human health?

Is there really enough news about wine and health to justify a whole conference? Boy howdy, yes! Avid newshounds will have noticed that studies about red wine and its various health benefits come out nearly every day, the purported advantages ranging from red wine lowering the risk of depression and dementia, to cardiovascular benefits the likes of boosting good cholesterol and lowering bad.

Overall, the health message seems pretty clear: Have a glass of red wine now and then, why don'cha! Not dozens of glasses at a sitting, of course. Not while you're driving. Not to replace exercise. But a glass of wine with dinner may just be the thing for a general tilt toward better living.

But why? Researchers are hard at work trying to figure that out; hence, the third international convention on resveratrol. Science may, in our lifetimes, untangle why red wine is so good for you. Or it may not, because red wine is pretty complicated stuff.

Historically, red wine is made by growing small, very thick-skinned grapes, pressing them, letting the grape juice and grape skins stew around together for a while, and then letting that thick blend of stuff be acted on by wild yeast, which produces other natural compounds. The resulting liquid then ages in contact with material from another plant, namely oak in the form of an oak barrel. What comes out at the end of a natural winemaking process is a heady combination of super-concentrated plant material: grape material plus yeast material plus oak material.

Much of what ends up in a bottle of wine happens to be the very stuff that plants use to defend themselves from disease. To a grape vine, resveratrol is a way to defend itself against pathogens or attackers. Oak is prized in winemaking because of a compound called tannin, which contributes to wine's ability to age; you know it as that prickly feeling a very dry red wine can leave on your tongue. To the oak tree, however, tannin is something it uses to defend itself against bugs and disease.

Europeans have been making wine for thousands of years but, until recently, most people seem to have assumed wine was made for its obvious tipsy pleasures. I've got a hunch that what we're really drinking when we pour a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon is an ancient European folk medicine, recently elevated to a gourmet commodity. Will science come to agree with me? Maybe I'll book a trip to Hawaii in 2014 to find out.

Until then, I'd encourage you to think about red wine like I do: a whole lot of plants and mystery in a glass, adding up to something wonderful.

To what degree do the possible health benefits play into your decision to have a glass of red wine?

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