Healthy vice. Oxymoron? By the strict definition, it most assuredly is. However, with a change in perspective, something once viewed as a vice could theoretically be viewed later as something healthy. There could also be conditions for it to be considered healthy in moderation. It certainly exists, and, while we’re at it, let’s throw another attractive word on there. It’s a healthy and romantic vice. It’s associated with festivity and love. France produces more of it than anywhere else. If you haven’t guessed it already, I am talking about wine.
Some say we started producing wine as far back as 7000 B.C. Its origin has been traced to Greece by some, China by others and still many others who understandably want to claim credit for its creation. Like beer before it, wine was often consumed to avoid water that was easily polluted. With the natural sanitation afforded by alcohol, wine slowly became ubiquitous in places where people could grow grapes. The question health experts pose today is whether humans were meant to consume alcohol. Much like humans did not always drink milk, but evolved to be able to do so, some argue humans were absolutely meant to drink alcohol.
By now most of you have unquestionably heard that wine is good for you. Wine is often credited as the root of the so-called French paradox – the French eat a high-fat diet, but have much lower incidences of heart disease than we diet-obsessed Americans. However, the French paradox is much too complicated to be attributed solely to the potency of a glass of Cabernet.
Moderate consumption of red wine has been linked to lower incidences of heart disease, cancer and stroke, to name just a few. More importantly, drinking red wine seems to lengthen your life. I think moderate deserves some definition, though, considering the tendencies of students – especially on this campus. “Moderate” means one to two glasses for men and one for women. The health advantages quickly dissipate and transform into the typical pernicious effects of alcohol consumption when two glasses turns into five.
Scientists have long suspected these seemingly miraculous effects are due to an antioxidant known as resveratrol, which is found naturally in grapes and thus, wine. Scientists at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging conducted a study at the end of 2006 in which they fed two groups of rats a diet made up of 60 percent fat – about 30 percent higher than it should be. They gave extremely high doses of resveratrol to one of the groups. While both rats grew equally fat, the rats without the resveratrol all exhibited signs of diabetes and had enlarged livers. The rats with the resveratrol exhibited no such signs. In fact, they lived many months longer than the other group of rats, and about as long as rats on a normal, healthy diet. In human terms, imagine eating boatloads of cheese and butter and living as long as the neighborhood vegan.
However, the applicability of such a study to humans is far from clear. For one, to consume the amount of resveratrol that was fed to the rats, one would have to drink about 1,000 bottles of red wine a day. Secondly, humans are much more complicated beings than mice, so even if resveratrol supplements were deemed healthy, there is no telling what their effects might be. Many vitamins consumed in excess can be deadly.
There are some who suggest we simply consume grape juice and avoid the potential ill effects of alcohol. Grapes and red wine have equally high levels of resveratrol, but I think our experience with vitamins has shown that simply attributing the benefits of red wine to a lone antioxidant would be foolish. Taking vitamin supplements cannot replace eating fruits and vegetables. Nobody can argue taking a supplement of Vitamin C is the same as eating an orange. That is because we still do not truly understand the essence of an orange.
For now, let the scientists do their work. Epidemiologic studies have consistently shown people who consume wine live longer lives. Who really knows why? All I can say is try and consume moderate amounts of wine every day, ideally with a meal. If that means waiting until you’re out of college, so be it.