jamie goode's wine blog

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are the French serious about killing their wine industry?

Take a look at this news article:

Thanks to Wink Lorch for the link. See Wink's perspective here

I love French wine and I'd love to see all segments of the French wine industry succeed. It's such a shame that growers have to fight not just against market forces, but also against their own government.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I hate pseudoscience!

I've been researching a piece today on a medical doctor in Australia who has been marketing a range of resveratrol-supplemented wines. It's the sort of subject that is liable to set me ranting.

This is because I hate the abuse of science, and one of the primary areas in which science is abused (in my opinion) is in the field of dietary supplements. And, again, in my opinion, I think that to supplement wine with resveratrol, is moving beyond the current state of good science on this topic.

What's the story? A few years ago some really interesting reports turned up in the literature showing that resveratrol, which is a phytoalexin (plant defence molecule) found in red wine, can affect signalling molecules called sirtuins, which act as a metabolic switch.

This switch can shift the metabolism of a wide range of organisms, from yeasts to mammals, between two different strategies: live short and fast, or long and slow.

It seems that nature has built-in these two different strategies so that organisms can adapt to environments of either feast or famine. Normally, caloric restriction - the only intervention shown to extend lifespan across a range of different organisms - will result in a slow-burn sort of metabolism where organisms just hang in there, waiting for things to improve.

Resveratrol signalling, at least in experimental studies, seems to mimic caloric restriction, and it has been suggested that it could be protective against a range of age-related diseases, including cancer. Scientists are taking this seriously, and there is currently a lot of interest in this molecule, although there are issues with dose and bioavailability (it seems you need more than wine contains for there to be an effect, and also that while it's rapidly taken up by the body, it is also rapidly metabolized).

But while drug development based on initially promising findings is a long road that requires researchers to substantiate their claims by proving safety and efficacy of potential drug targets, the dietary supplements industry isn't bound by such restrictions.

Hence, if you search the internet, you'll find many companies already offering resveratrol-based supplements that claim to have amazing health benefits. I think this is wrong. It's far too early to be making claims for compounds such as resveratrol and marketing resveratrol-enhanced wines in the way that's currently being attempted. The science simply isn't there yet.

I also think it's a mistake to market wine as a 'nutriceutical' in this way. There's good evidence that moderate wine consumption may be good for health; so why the need to add extra things to wine?

Let the research scientists do their work. There are good reasons why the pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated and that consumers are protected from potentially false claims or dangerous medicines. It's high time that the dietary supplements industry was subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny, because it's an industry that's making billions of pounds a year from peddling products whose efficacy is largely unsubstantiated.

I'm going to stop now because I'm beginning to rant.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Drink wine and live longer

The subject of wine and health is an interesting and complex topic. A new scientific paper in the American Journal of Medicine is a welcome addition to the literature, because it seems to be pretty free of the issue of confounding, where other factors could potentially explain the results (an example of this would be that moderate wine drinkers tend to be moderate in other areas of their life, for example they may eat more healthily than other groups).

The paper in question is titled 'Adopting Moderate Alcohol Consumption in Middle Age: Subsequent Cardiovascular Events', and the results are summarized in the abstract thus:
"Of 7697 participants who had no history of cardiovascular disease and were nondrinkers at baseline, within a 6-year follow-up period, 6.0% began moderate alcohol consumption (2 drinks per day or fewer for men, 1 drink per day or fewer for women) and 0.4% began heavier drinking. After 4 years of follow-up, new
moderate drinkers had a 38% lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease than did their persistently nondrinking counterparts. This difference persisted after adjustment for demographic and cardiovascular risk factors (odds ratio 0.62, 95% confidence interval, 0.40-0.95)."

There's a BBC news piece on this paper here. The conclusion seems quite clear, to me. If you are middle-aged, then if you can take up moderate wine drinking without becoming an alcoholic, then you will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Yeast rocks

Nice piece in New Scientist today about brewer's yeast:

Some time in the distant past Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to give it its full name, developed a chemical trick that would transform human societies. Some anthropologists have argued that the desire for alcohol was what persuaded our ancestors to become farmers and so led to the birth of civilisation. Whether that's true of not, alcohol has had a huge influence on our history and our
I'm not sure I agree with the last paragraph, where it implies that there's s selective advantage for Asian populations to carry mutant ALDH2, which reduces their ability to clear acetaldehyde, produced by the metabolism of alcohol. Acetaldehyde is a nasty molecule that acts as a carcinogen: there's a good incentive for clearing it as fast as possible. It's more likely that Asian populations, which have enjoyed teas as their traditional beverage rather than beer and wine, haven't had the same selective pressure on them to metabolize acetaldehyde as efficiently.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

bits and pieces

Just received my copy of The Wine Diet, a new book by Professor Roger Corder. Unlike most books on diet it's actually written by a proper scientist, which augurs well for the accuracy of its content. However, Corder has a stake in this debate because he has discovered one of the potential links between wine and health, and he may overplay this hand because of it. We'll see - I'll report back when I've done some reading.

Also received a sample bottle of the Red Heart wine referred to here a few days back. It's a full-throttle, ripe Aussie red with a distinctive blackcurrant flavour, and some nice chunky tannins. For a £5 wine it tastes pretty good. It reminded me strongly of a Chilean Cabernet or Carmenere, with a little bit of greenness behind the powerful sweet fruit.

Still on the subject of health I went to see a doctor over the weekend about my right elbow. It makes a funny crunching noise when I use it. Has done ever since I mashed it up in a fall a few years back. When I swim, play golf or play tennis, it gets quite sore. So I tell the doctor this (a charming young South African guy). He looks at my notes. 'You're almost 40', he says. 'You aren't as young as you used to be'. Is there anything he can do for me, or advise me to do? 'Use it less,' is the response. 'If you play golf every week, play it once a month'. Hmmm. Don't like the sound of this.

Got my first Christmas card today. It's a big (25 x 18 cm) card from Casa Lapostolle with a picture of their immaculate barrel cellar. Not signed by anyone. Posted from Chile.

Aside: Blogger (which I use to publish this blog) is a real pain at the moment. Its image upload feature only works about one attempt in three. It has problems publishing posts perhaps one attempt in 12. Not good enough.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Health...sort of

All this talk about wine and health has got me thinking. The human body is an amazing piece of engineering. We tend to focus on how it is we get sick, but for me a better perspective is gained by reversing this question: how remarkable it is that we function so well, most of the time. Think about the heart, and how it beats so consistently for so long, when a few moments' malfunction could prove fatal. Think about our skin, and how it forms such an effective self-renewing barrier. Think of your lungs, which are a warm, moist environment that would seem to be a perfect environment for nasty bugs to grow in, yet they rarely do. Still, while we tend to last a long time, we don't last forever.

Wednesday, September 4, 2041 is a day I need to avoid, apparently. According to the rather morbid but funny Death clock, it will be my last on this earth. Perhaps I should hold a big 'drink the cellar dry' party on the evening of the 3rd.

Still on the subject of health, eldest son has developed conjunctivitis and a severe, violent phobia about eye drops at the same time. You have no idea how difficult this is making family life at the moment!

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More on wine antioxidants

Just thought I should expand a bit on my post on the new Red Heart wine. The wine in question is a Petit Verdot/Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia, bottled in Northants (UK) by Corby for Buckingham Vintners.

The label states that:
'Antioxidants can help inhibit free radicals that occur naturally in your body. Free radicals can damage your health, so a wine that's naturally high in antioxidants has got to be great news!'
This statement cleverly avoids making the claim that the antioxidants in this wine will protect you against free radical oxidative damage to the tissues of your body, but this is implied. Let me make the following points:
  • All the big epidemiological studies (where medics look at the health of populations) show that moderate drinkers live longer. Some studies show that wine drinkers are healthier than beer or spirit drinkers. Some of this could be confounding (for example, there might be some other shared characteristic of moderate drinkers or wine drinkers that makes them a more healthy group). But the effect looks pretty robust.

  • Many mechanisms have been proposed for how wine (or other alcoholic drinks) might have health-enhancing effects. One of these is that wine, and in particular red wine, contains a group of compounds known as polyphenols, which have anti-oxidant properties. Although we need oxygen, it’s actually quite a toxic molecule, and a group of chemicals known as reactive oxygen species cause damage to our body tissues (although they also have a role in fighting microbes). We have various antioxidant defences in our tissues which minimizes the impact of these bad dude chemicals. Damage still occurs, though. So the idea that red wine polyphenols could be enhancing antioxidant protection is a seductive one.

  • There’s a problem, though. Dietary antioxidants don’t seem to work as antioxidants in the body in the same way that they do in the test-tube. The emerging story is that it is increasingly unlikely that any of wine’s health benefits come from the antioxidant effects of polyphenols.

  • It looks like polyphenols may still have a protective effect, but not as antioxidants. One possible mechanism is through their effect in suppressing a molecule called endothelin 1, which would then have a positive effect on arteries and blood vessels. Quite a bit more work needs to be done before we can be sure of this.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Red heart wine

Sainsbury's (UK supermarket) today issued a press release describing a new wine, 'Red Heart':

"The antioxidant content of red wine is believed to play a role in the health benefits derived from drinking in moderation. Red Heart has an antioxidant level, which is 32% higher than the average level of other leading red wines.

We benefit from many different antioxidants naturally found in our food and drink, and they play an important role in protecting our body. Antioxidants help counteract the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are compounds that cause cell damage, which in the long term can damage health. Exposure to UV rays, pollution and smoking produce free radicals.

This is why moderate consumption of red wine and a healthy diet abundant in fresh fruit and vegetables can improve our health and increase longevity."

B******s! If red wine has health benefits, it is almost certainly not because of its antioxidant properties. The latest evidence suggests that dietary antioxidants don't really work. I do wish people would speak to someone knowledgable on wine and health issues before issuing this sort of disinformation.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Resveratrol: a wonder drug in wine

There have been a couple of recent scientific reports on resveratrol that have attracted a lot of interest. It's a phytoalexin that is found in grape skins (and thus wine). If it is fed to mice at reasonably high doses, it protects them from the negative effects of eating too much. It's quite dramatic: these mice can eat a high fat diet that would normally kill them pretty sharpish, but when they are given a stiff resveratrol chaser with their rations, they don't get fat, don't develop diabetes, and consequently don't keel over prematurely. It seems that resveratrol hits a particular metabolic switch, giving you the benefits of dieting and excercise without actually doing either.

As you can understand, this has got people pretty excited. As long as you drink a few glasses of resveratrol-rich wine, then you can carry on gorging yourself on fine French cuisine, and forget about pounding the pavements in an attempt to stem a bulging waistline and incipient type 2 diabetes. But wait a minute: the story isn't that simple.

I asked Professor Roger Corder, who has researched wine and health, for his views.
‘The resveratrol story has become a bit of a publicity stunt for those lacking knowledge in the field’, maintains Corder. ‘At a dose of 22.4 mg/kg per day (used in the recent mouse study reported in Nature) and typical resveratrol levels of 1–2 mg/litre in wine, the dose in human terms for wine would have to be around 1568 mg/day or 780–1560 litres per day’.

Also problematic is the bioavailability story. Data in humans are currently rather limited, although they are beginning to emerge. And they threaten to rain on the resveratrol parade. Professor Thomas Walle at the Medical University of South Carolina published a rather damning paper on this in 2004, in which he concluded that in humans very little dietary resveratrol gets to where it is needed in the body. ‘Based on our studies as well as those of others the bioavailability of resveratrol, that is the amount intact resveratrol reaching the blood circulation, is virtually zero in humans’, reports Walle.

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