- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

Red wine's pale sibling may rarely make a nightly news appearance, but this week white wine fleetingly joined the ranks of alcoholic beverages touted for their supposed health benefits.
"Raise a glass and breathe easier," CNN told viewers earlier this week. "New indications today [suggest] that a little white wine might help your lungs."
State University of New York-Buffalo researchers were behind a study which found that white-wine drinkers had better lung function than those who stick to red.
"There is a large body of evidence showing that wine contains antioxidants such as flavonoids and phenols," the researchers told a May 20 American Thoracic Society meeting. "We think that the antioxidants in wine account for our current findings," and that the correlation was stronger for white wine than red.
Didn't another study just say red is supposed to be the healthier one? Another day, another confusing health report. Americans attempting to sort through the barrage of health studies on cocktails just want to know the myths from the realities.
A little digging into science helps put such studies on the intoxicating grape beverage into proper perspective.
Dr. Maurizio Trevisan, a contributor to the SUNY-Buffalo study, was hesitant about drawing any firm conclusions.
"We are very cautious about our conclusion," Dr. Trevisan said in an interview. "We don't really know why [its good for the lungs], and that's a big question."
Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, a specialist in wine phenolics in the University of California-Davis's Department of Viticulture and Enology, said he was curious about the study's findings because antioxidants "are much higher in red wine than white wine."
"Red has five to 10 times as much as white," he said.
Doctors dismiss reports out of various news outlets crediting wine with fighting cancer, strengthening bones and more as feeding misconceptions by drinkers looking to rationalize those five glasses of chardonnay in the name of fighting disease.
"Those kinds of simple-minded reports are a problem," Dr. Waterhouse said, because not all of the purported effects are provable yet.
What current research does support is wine's effect on the heart. Reds have been shown to reduce high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol, in the arteries that pump blood to the heart. Red wine "tends to pull cholesterol out of the cells, which may reduce arteriosclerosis," or hardening of the arteries due to HDL buildup, Mr. Trevisan said.
"The principal health effect of moderate wine consumption is that it appears to reduce heart disease," Dr. Waterhouse said.
The majority of studies so far support this idea.
"Red wine, but not white wine, has antioxidant activity this difference is most likely due to the content of wine polyphenols which are abundant in red wine but not in white wine," according to the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In a 1998 study in the same journal, antioxidants in the blood of study participants peaked within 30 minutes of drinking the red wine and stayed in the system for up to four hours.
"White wine consumption did not have any effect," those researchers said.
Moderation is an important message, especially since 10 percent of the population has trouble moderating alcohol intake, according to Dr. Waterhouse.
"There is absolutely no justification for these people to start drinking for their health," he said. "Any chance of disease reduction is totally offset by large risks for accidents, disrupting families, losing jobs, etc. This is a game of numbers and these numbers don't add up."
For people to be "considering taking up drinking for the health benefits" would be "very, very dangerous," Dr. Trevisan said. There are other ways of getting a daily dose of antioxidants, such as the fruit that yields the drink.
"I think eating grapes is wonderful," Dr. Trevisan said. "I definitely like my wine, but to use personal habits to come to a public health message is a bit of a leap."
Given the myriad reports on wine's connection to health, weary consumers may have been hoping the news would be something more glamorous. But messages like "white wine whittles away the pounds" or "sip wrinkles away with a glass of white" are wishful thinking, doctors say.
And so while the white wine news nugget may have been intriguing, it is too soon to establish more than that.
"So far, these theories have attracted much attention and continuing research this means that other scientists believe that they are worth studying," Dr. Waterhouse said. "But these theories, however sound, are not proven."
When asked why the press so often reports on the health benefits of wine, Dr. Waterhouse paused.
"Chocolate gets even more attention," he said, and then gave a logical and decidedly non-scientific explanation: "It's a story that says there is something good about something we like to do."


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