I’d love to believe

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Red wine benefits?

I’d love to believe that the resveratrol in red wine possesses a range of health benefits including anti-cancer effects, anti-inflammatory effects, cardiovascular benefits, anti-diabetes potential and protection against Alzheimer’s. Thus good for all adult ages. A glass of wine a day might keep the doctor away.

But it might be wishful thinking. It is true that resveratrol can inhibit growth of cancer cells in a culture and in some animal models, but it is not known whether it can prevent cancer in humans. It has increased the lifespans of yeast, worms, fruit flies, fish, and mice fed a high-calorie diet, but again this has not been shown in humans. So the brutal truth is probably that the amount of resveratrol in red wine is too small to have any measurable beneficial effects in humans.

But we can still believe!


Whisky benefits?

I’d love to believe that the ellagic acid content of whisky actually can reduce oxidative stress. Ellagic acid has been shown to have antiproliferative and antioxidant properties in a number of in vitro and small-animal models. It may directly inhibit the DNA binding of certain carcinogens, and it has a chemoprotective effect in cellular models.

But again it might be too good to be true. Ellagic acid has been marketed as a dietary supplement with a range of claimed benefits against cancer, heart disease, and other medical problems. In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called it a fake cancer ‘cure’ consumers should avoid. So not much luck there.

But we can still believe!

It might actually be premature to give up red wine and whisky completely. As antioxidants, like resveratrol and ellagic acid, are additive any contribution is useful. Complement the spirits with plenty of berries, dark green vegetables and nuts and you will not go wrong. Red wine and whisky will be outdone on the health front, but so what.

But there is more…


Red chilli pepper benefits?

I’d also very much love to believe the latest reports that consumption of hot red chilli peppers can reduce deaths due to heart disease or stroke. Going back for centuries, peppers and spices have been thought to be beneficial in the treatment of many diseases. A new study using National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III data collected from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years, found that hot red chilli pepper consumption decreased mortality by 13%.

But unfortunately the findings, widely published by the popular press, are based solely on epidemiological data. Exploring epidemiological data, even if prospective in nature, is fraught with obstacles. The authors themselves point out that given the observational nature of the investigation, causality can only be suggested, not confirmed.

However, on the bright side there is some support for the findings in a theory that capsaicin in chilli peppers can influence cellular and molecular mechanisms that prevent obesity and modulate coronary blood flow, and also possesses antimicrobial properties that may alter the gut microbiota.

In a sign of our desperate need to find some beneficial news the popular press was inundated by citations of the positive findings. Some examples:

  • “Can eating spicy food lead to a longer life? Chili peppers could be the secret” says National Post.
  • “Spicy food could be the secret to a healthy heart and a longer life, says new study” says The Telegraph.
  • “This Is Your Body On Spicy Foods” says The Huffington Post.
  • “Eat Peppers, Live Longer?” says New York Times.
  • “Red hot chilli peppers: the way to a longer life?” says The Sydney Morning Herald.

If you’re on to a good thing the press will pick it up. Doesn’t mean it’s true though. But we can still believe!


Whisky – is it really “livets vatten”?

For the drinkers out there it was a while since we covered the alcoholic beverages beer and wine in previous blogs. So you will be happy to see that the focus today is whisky. I use the Scottish spelling and since the Scottish brew might have been influenced by an influx of Scandinavian vikings I allude to the Swedish expression “livets vatten”. But similar to the chicken and egg conundrum, on the contrary it might be that the Swedes translated the gaelic “uisge beatha” which actually means water of life. Or more likely both expressions might come from the Latin “aqua vitae” with the same meaning.

So what is whisky?

Whisky might be good for you (Photo: vissago)

Whisky might be good for you (Photo: vissago)

Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. The typical unifying characteristics of the different varieties are the fermentation of grains, distillation, and ageing in wooden barrels. Italy, again, was at the forefront in the art of distillation with the earliest records where alcohol was distilled from wine dating from the 13th century. As most things alcoholic, its use spread through medieval monasteries, largely for purported medicinal purposes. From here the Irish beat the Scots in being the first to produce actual whisky in 1405, with the Scots almost a century late with their first records dating from 1494.

To be honest the first outputs from the attempts to make whisky were not very enjoyable. The distillation process was still in its infancy and the whisky was not allowed to age. As a result it tasted very raw and brutal compared to today’s versions. Renaissance-era whisky was also very potent and not diluted. Over time whisky evolved into the much smoother drink that we can enjoy today. People all over the world make and drink the different varieties of whisky, and each whisky has a distinct taste. Some of the differences might come from the grain used which can be rye, barley, wheat or corn.

But is it the water of life?

Although any type of alcohol can be deadly in excess, the medical community has found some health benefits to drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, especially whisky. A large shot of whisky can help protect against heart disease, scientists have claimed. They found that both whisky and red wine helped to protect against coronary heart disease by raising the body’s level of antioxidants. And as an interesting fact for the whisky lovers more of the protective compounds were absorbed from drinking whisky. Researchers also claim that drinking the equivalent of three or four pub measures of the spirit can boost the body’s general defences against disease.

No need to go overboard though, the scientists found that the benefit was achieved by drinking just once a week. So as usual alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation to accumulate the beneficial effects. And maybe not by all. Common public health advice is that any alcohol, if you drink as little as one to two units a day, can protect against coronary heart disease. But this is relevant only if you are in a risk group, such as menopausal women or men over 40 years who are prone to heart trouble.

Some more specific facts

Ellagic acid migrate from oak casks to whisky (Photo: peridude)

Ellagic acid migrate from oak casks to whisky (Photo: peridude)

People in the risk groups who consume one or two alcoholic drinks daily, including whisky, have a 50 % lower chance of having a stroke or developing dementia in old age. This moderate amount of drinking can also decrease the chance of developing diabetes by 30 to 40 %. Alcohol contains ellagic acid, an antioxidant that also is believed to destroy cancerous cells.

Ellagic acid is a natural phenol antioxidant found in numerous fruits and vegetables. The highest levels of ellagic acid are found in blackberries, cranberries, pecans, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, walnuts, wolfberry and grapes. Ellagic acid is also found in oak species like the North American white oak and European red oak and migrate to whisky during the ageing process in oak barrels. According to scientists whisky contains more ellagic acid than other types of alcohol.

The downside

An important reminder though if you have to look after your waist line. Alcoholic beverages of all sorts have a high energy content. Although there are many different recipes for beer with varying calorie content, a typical can of beer can be estimated to contain 150 calories. A standard restaurant glass of wine has around 123 calories. This could be compared to a shot of 80-proof whisky (confusingly 40 % alcohol) that contains 65 calories. On a volume basis whisky contains more calories than beer and wine. However, a typical serving of beer is many times the size of a serving of whisky. By that measure “a beer” has more calories than “a whisky.” Wine is comfortably in the middle by both measures.

And if you are going out to brag about the ellagic acid content of whisky with your mates be warned. The beneficial findings of ellagic acid to health is still preliminary. So some caution might be in place until the findings have been endorsed by the appropriate authorities.

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