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Health Watch: Is Wine the Key to a Long Life?

A 15-year study finds a daily drink can increase longevity. Plus, researchers find that wine can improve heart health in diabetics and may prevent tooth decay
Photo by: Istockphotos
The polyphenols in your wine might help keep your smile healthy.

Lexi Williams, Douglas De Jesus
Posted: March 7, 2018

Research has shown a positive relationship between wine and fighting the effects of age—from studies on resveratrol's potential anti-aging properties to evidence that a bit of alcohol might help fight off cognitive decline. Now, a long-term study is bolstering the idea that moderate drinking might help you live longer.

The 90+ Study, an ongoing project by the University of California at Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND), looks at different lifestyle habits to determine how they affect longevity. Since the study's inception in 2003, more than 1,600 participants have volunteered to undergo twice-yearly evaluations, including neurological, neuropsychological, cognitive and physical tests, and give information about their lifestyles, diets and medical histories.

In February, Dr. Claudia Kawas, a geriatric neurologist and codirector of the study, explained her team's findings on the relationship between alcohol and longevity at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference in Austin, Texas. According to the study's website, Kawas announced that consuming about two glasses of wine or beer per day was associated with an 18 percent reduced risk of premature death over abstainers. The team's research indicates that regular exercise, social and cognitive engagement, and moderate coffee consumption also lead to longer lifespans.

Because the study is ongoing, estimates of how much these lifestyle factors affect lifespan might change over time as new data is reported. In an email to Wine Spectator, Dana Greenia, a co-investigator of the 90+ Study, said that the percentage that moderate drinking lowered the likelihood of dying was closer to 15 percent, citing a study published in 2007 that reflected that number. But she was clear about the key point of the results: "Simply, people who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained."

Wine Linked to Healthier Arteries in Type 2 Diabetics

Atherosclerosis, a condition in which arteries narrow and harden due to a buildup of plaque, can lead to a variety of major health issues. People with diabetes are considered at high risk for developing the disease. Could wine help with this risk?

A report published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at whether moderate wine consumption could have an effect on carotid atherosclerosis in people with type 2 diabetes—the most common form of diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. As part of a larger study on cardiovascular disease and diabetes, researchers assigned participants with type 2 diabetes who normally abstain from alcohol to drink a glass of either red wine, white wine or water every evening with dinner for two years. (Each participant was also told to follow a Mediterranean diet, which has been previously shown to help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, among other diseases.)

At the start of the study, researchers obtained ultrasounds of 174 of the participants' arteries, and found that 45 percent of them already had detectible plaque. After two years, researchers did not notice a significant increase in plaque volume among any of the participants. They did, however, find that those with higher plaque at the beginning of the study, who were also assigned to drink wine (either red or white), had a noticeable reduction in plaque volume.

"Many observational studies have found an association between moderate alcohol consumption and health benefits, yet recommendations for moderate alcohol consumption remain controversial," Rachel Golan, researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the study's lead author, told Wine Spectator in an email. "This long-term trial suggests that initiating moderate wine intake, especially red wine, among well-controlled diabetics as part of a healthy diet is apparently safe and modestly decreases cardiometabolic risk."

While these findings certainly don't mean that all type 2 diabetics should be drinking wine in order to clear out their arteries, the study does add to the growing body of research indicating wine's beneficial effects on both cardiovascular and diabetes-related health issues.

Wine and your Teeth

Antioxidants found in wine, such as polyphenols, have long been associated as powerful aides for your health. But a new study released by scientists in Spain suggests a surprising new benefit. Wine, it seems, may prevent tooth and gum decay.

The study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by researchers working at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, found that antioxidants in red wine prevented plaque-causing bacteria from sticking to gum tissue. The effect was even more enhanced when the antioxidants were combined with an oral probiotic—Streptococcus dentisani, which inhibits the growth of plaque.

The researchers used model gum tissue grown from human cells for the study and applied the wine antioxidants in various combinations. They separated the tissue into several groups, treating one group with polyphenols (caffeic and p-coumaric acids) only, one with polyphenols and the probiotic, and one treated with "commercially available grapeseed and red wine extracts" (Vitaflavan and Provinols). The wine antioxidants proved quite effective at inhibiting bacterial adhesion to the gum cells, but a combination of the polyphenols and the probiotic offered the most effective results.

The researchers suggest there could be some interesting methods for delivering the antiseptic power of the antioxidants, such as mouthwashes, toothpastes and chewing gum. But before you go reaching for a glass of wine to gargle with, until additional research undergoes human trials under real world conditions, Colgate Cabernet will have to wait.

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