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12.2005

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Harvey Finkel, MD

Let's examine whether an increase from the 12 or 13 percent, to which we have been accustomed in table wine, to 16 or 17 percent is likely to influence either the adverse or beneficial effects of wine upon health.

To ask a question whose answer seems obvious, what has changed in the wine's composition? Leaving organoleptic matters to the previous article by Aimsel Ponti, very little other than the alcohol. Acids are certainly lower. Other compounds are likely to have changed negligibly. We'll look at the possible effects of the extra alcohol on mind and body, and some of the details of what's unlikely to change.

The behavioral effects of alcohol are too well known to belabor here. They are difficult to predict, for they depend on size, sex, absorptive state, drugs, experience, and rate and quantity of alcohol imbibed. Because women's stomachs contain only about half the neutralizing enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase as do men's, the same dose of alcohol is likely to go twice as far in women as in men. Hence, the general recommendation that women drink half as much as men in the moderation zone. (When we share a bottle, therefore, I have rights to two-thirds, my wife to one-third.) We all know that alcohol is more potent on an empty stomach than when accompanying a meal, which is what it's for anyway. More alcohol is absorbed from bubbly than from still wine. Some medications may potentiate alcohol, some may modulate it. Because we acquire tolerance, the impact of a small drink on one innocent of alcohol may exceed that of several large measures on a regular drinker.

For those used to calibrating their intakes so that they can keep themselves under perfect control and can drive home safely, ignoring or being ignorant of the extra power of one of these wines may be dangerous and a legal liability. Remember to stay within safe limits.

The medical adversities that may be caused by excessive alcohol depend on susceptibility, quantity and duration of drinking. They range from alcohol-induced headache to a long list of horrible disorders. The liver is the organ most susceptible to damage, the canary of drinking. Only if an intemperate wine drinker switched to mainly high-alcohol wines would there likely be additional measurable negative effect on an already poisoned body.

Dry wines derive virtually all their calories from alcohol (seven calories per gram). They contain virtually no carbohydrates, no fats nor proteins. In fact, wine is not a source of any of the accepted nutrients or vitamins, although it can stimulate appetite. A four-ounce glass of twelve-percent dry wine contains only about 8O calories, not an important amount. Increasing the alcohol content to, say, 16 percent would add only about 27 more calories - not an issue.

The extra alcohol is not likely to add to the health benefits of drinking. Once your intake is within the moderate range, increasing it has not been reported to help further. Some studies suggest that increasing the frequency of drinking, while keeping the total quantity within safe limits (average of two or so glasses of wine per day for men, half that for non-pregnant women), is ideal for health. So, more is not better with respect to alcohol - au contraire.

The concentration of beneficial antioxidant polyphenols has not shown a predictable pattern in various grapes or with reference to degrees of ripeness, so we cannot expect increased health benefits from these compounds in the wines made from superripe grapes.

One segment of the population may need to pay special attention. Because of genetically determined differing enzyme functions, many people of eastern Asian descent, and some others, accumulate acetaldehyde, the first breakdown product of alcohol in the body, soon after consuming alcohol. This highly toxic compound produces florid facial flushing, runaway rapid heart action, and even circulatory collapse. Those of this group who can enjoy modest wine intake might be tipped over into a toxic state by high-alcohol wine.


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