This year brought us ever more insight into the relationship between wine and health. Wine's potential preventative benefits against aging, dementia and Alzheimer's disease were popular areas of interest among both scientific researchers and wine lovers, as they were in 2016, but wine's relationship with weight gain and loss proved to be the most popular topic this year.
But Wine Spectator reported on a wide range of potential benefits and risks of wine consumption in 2017, all of which are worth revisiting, as are our reader-submitted questions. And if you've got your own unanswered questions, maybe we can lead you in the right direction in 2018!
The inescapable truth is that wine contains calories, but how much does wine impact our weight? Recognizing and understanding alcohol's dietary effects is key, and this year Wine Spectator compiled all the most important research on that topic into one comprehensive guide. There are an abundance of studies—and opinions—on the relationship between wine and weight, making it tough to decide if you need to change your drinking habits. And counting calories in a glass of wine isn't just about looking good: More than one-third of American adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raising their risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. We looked at wine by the numbers (calories, carbs, etc.), how it fits into a healthy diet, and the all-important philosophy of moderation to help readers better understand how to maintain a healthy lifestyle without giving up their favorite beverage.
The connection between wine and the brain is complicated, and one that scientists have been fascinated by for years. This year, researchers found that resveratrol (a chemical compound present in grapes, tea leaves and red wine) showed some neuro-protective qualities in individuals at risk for dementia. Compared with non-drinkers, subjects experiencing early stages of mental decline due to age who consumed 1.5 glasses of wine a day showed more activity in the regions of the brain that control memory. It's a promising find for researchers looking for tools to prevent dementia and Alzheimer's.
Resveratrol's anti-aging rep received another boost thanks to a study on neuromuscular junctions (NMJs), the synapses that control chemical signals between motor neurons and muscle fibers, that showed that these vital connections degrade more slowly in mice that have consumed resveratrol. The resveratrol-dosed mice showed 18 percent less degeneration in their NMJs, a very significant finding for researchers as they study how diet can slow the effects of aging.
So-called "cleanses" and juice diets in the name of ridding the body of toxins have become quite the fad. Alcohol has not escaped the elimination diet trend, with many dedicating an entire month off from alcohol in the name of health and social media likes. However, nutritionists are divided on the health benefits of these extreme "dry" periods. According to some experts, abstaining from drinking for a month doesn't really produce any tangible long-term health benefits. However, it can lead people to more conscious and moderate drinking habits that are beneficial. But for others, a month of sobriety is viewed as an excuse to binge when it concludes. Nutritionists caution that a moderate approach to drinking throughout the year and frequent periods of two to three days without consuming alcohol is a much healthier approach than extreme dry periods followed by over-indulgence.
Multiple studies have found that wine may lower the risk for dementia, but researchers are just beginning to understand why. Earlier this year, scientists in China published a meta-analysis of the current research on the aging brain and alcohol. Their results were mixed, but they did find that wine showed a protective effect against dementia when consumed in moderation; beer drinkers, on the other hand, were found to have an increased risk over non-drinkers. While further information is needed on the potential neuro-protective qualities of wine, this analysis suggests that wine has specific and unique qualities for those wishing to include moderate alcohol consumption as part of a balanced diet.