Wine: Health Benefits in History and TodayWritten by David MasifonPosted on 02 10, 2017
Wine, particularly red wine, has been studied considerably over many years with interesting findings suggesting it may aid a longer lifespan, guard against certain cancers, foster mental health, and help the heart stay healthy. We will focus on these health benefits by touching on a brief history of wine and explaining what moderate consumption is.
A brief history of wine
Cornell University has explained that archeologists date grape cultivation and wine-making to a time between 6,000 and 4,000 BC in Mesopotamia and the coastal areas of the Caspian Sea. At the time, only aristocrats, royalty, and members of clergy enjoyed wine. The peasants and commoners apparently drank ale, mead and beer.
In “The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition”, Jancis Robertson says that ancient Egyptian Papyri and Sumerian tablets dating back to 2200 BC are the oldest documents mentioning wine as a man-made medicine. The book reveals that wine was also savoured mainly by royalty and the upper classes in Ancient Eygpt.
But eventually, when wine-making became a thing in ancient Greece, it was enjoyed by the whole spectrum of society, and became a popular theme in literature, religion, leisure, medicine and mythology. Hippocrates, often referred to as the “father of western medicine”, acknowledged wine as part of a healthy diet. He also encouraged the use of wine in disinfecting wounds, and promoted as a liquid in which medications could be mixed so patients can consume easily. Hippocrates said wine should be used to alleviate pain during childbirth, for symptoms of diarrhoea, and even lethargy.
Soon, the ancient Romans took vine clippings from Greece back to Rome. From there centers of viticulture spread all over southern Europe, then in Germany and the rest of the continent.
In the Middle Ages, Catholic monks often used wine for a wide range of medical treatments and in the Bible, in his first epistle to Timothy, Paul the Apostle recommended a little wine from time to time to aid digestion. Persian Avicenna in the 11th century AD acknowledged that wine helped digestion, but merely recommended it as a disinfectant while dressing wounds because Islamic laws prohibited the consumption of alcohol.
With time, wine was so linked to medical practice that in the first printed book on wine, Arnaldus de Villa Nova, a physician, wrote at length on wine’s benefits for the treatment of many illnesses and conditions, including sinus problems and dementia. Another reason wine was so popular throughout history is because safe drinking water was often scarce. During the 1892 cholera epidemic in Hamburg, Germany, wine was used to sterilize water.
Between the1800s and early 20th century there was a rapid spread of the Temperance movement, criticising the use of alcoholic beverages and advising reduced consumption. Then, medical establishments started recognising alcoholism as a disease.
When is wine consumption moderate?
Several studies have found that it is the consumers who drink “moderately” who enjoy all the benefit mentioned above, so what is moderate wine consumption? Well, the amount of wine you can drink in one sitting before the health benefits turn into dangers depends on many factors, including your size, age, sex, body stature and general state of health, as well as whether it is being consumed with food or on an empty stomach.
It’s accepted that women absorb alcohol faster than men because of their lower body water content and different levels of stomach enzymes. As a result, moderate wine consumption will be a lower amount for women than for men. The US Department of Agriculture’s publication titled Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends “up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men”.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service has said men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day and women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day. One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. A 250ml (large) glass of 12% red wine has about 3 units of alcohol. A 175ml (medium) glass has about 2 units.
Health Benefits of Wine
Studies have shown that moderate consumption of wine will help with ensuring you enjoy the following benefits:
- Reduced risk of depression
- Colon cancer prevention
- Breast cancer prevention
- Demetia prevention
- Blinding diseases prevention
- Stroke damage protection
- Lung cancer prevention
- Raised levels of Omega-3 fatty acids
- Liver disease prevention
- Prostate cancer prevention
- Type 2 diabetes prevention
Most of these health benefits of moderate wine drinking have been linked to the beverage’s resveratrol content. Found in plants, resveratrol is a compound used by them to fight bacteria and fungi and for protection from ultraviolet radiation. Red wine is richest in resveratrol among alcoholic beverages.