Red Wine's a Sign of a Refined Mind

Grape sippers are healthier because they're wiser and wealthier, while beer gets a jeer in new study

Neil Sherman

Neil Sherman

Published on August 14, 2001

TUESDAY, Aug. 14, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- It may not be that red wine makes a person healthy, as many studies propose; it may be that people who drink it are smarter and live the good life, say Danish researchers.

And if beer is your libation of choice, here's some bad news. Suds-only people are poorer, not as smart and have more emotional problems, say the researchers.

A study of hundreds of Danish men and women showed that socio-economic status, IQ, healthy living and red wine consumption are all related, the researchers say. This relationship may explain why red wine drinkers in general are healthier than their peers, they speculate.

"It's not a cause-and-effect situation; it's a correlation of lifestyle and intelligence with health behavior," says study author June Reinisch, director emeritus of the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Ind. "What we found was that people with high social status and a lot of education had good health, and they were much more likely to drink wine."

Reinisch and colleagues from the Danish Epidemiology Science Center in Copenhagen studied 363 Danish men and 330 Danish women between the ages of 29 and 34 to measure their lifestyles, wealth, education, IQ, personality, psychiatric symptoms and health-related behaviors, including their use of beer and wine.

Reinisch explains, "We've been studying this group of Danish individuals since before they were born. They are part of a cohort of all the children born at the largest hospital in Copenhagen between 1959 and 1961." Researchers have used them in the past to research myriad issues, including psychological and developmental ones.

Wine drinking was greatly associated with a higher social class for parents, higher education levels, being less neurotic and having higher IQs, the study shows. Those who drank only beer had lower IQs, lower socio-economic status, and were more prone to anxiety and alcohol abuse.

The findings are in the August Archives of Internal Medicine.

Drinking a glass or two of red wine has long been touted for its ability to fend off heart disease and cancer. Back in the early 1990s, researchers began examining the so-called "French paradox": why the French have half as much heart disease as Americans, despite eating similar diets high in animal fat. Perhaps, researchers theorized, what made the healthy difference was the wine served commonly at French meals.

More recent research has suggested that the antioxidants in red wine may have a heart-protective effect. The compound resveratrol -- found in high levels in the skins of grapes and blueberries -- is believed to help protect against heart disease and cancer. Laboratory tests have shown it may kill cancer cells, and it also may reduce total blood cholesterol levels. Plants make resveratrol to help protect themselves during times of stress.

But Reinisch thinks people who drink wine start off healthier and basically lead healthier lives. "If you're upper class, it usually means that not only did your mother have good nutrition, but your grandmother had good nutrition, as well. And we have data that shows that IQ is related to your grandmother's and your mother's nutrition."

"This study does not mean that wine drinking may not have moderate health effects," Reinisch adds. "What this study says is that we just don't have all the data put together yet."

Whether red wine is protective against disease is almost beside the point, says Dr. Ira Goldberg, a member of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee.

"There's no conclusive data yet on the health effects of red wine," he says. "The usual requirement for showing something having a health effect is a randomized trial, where you identify two groups, split them in half, give them red wine and document the results. And that has not been done yet."

"The real issue is whether red wine is a benefit for heart disease, and what other ways there are to prevent heart disease," Goldberg adds. "It's not so clear we need red wine, since there are already lots of treatments available to treat or prevent heart disease."

"The real 'French Paradox' to my mind is: If they have less heart disease, how come they don't live longer?" Goldberg asks.

What To Do

For more on the possible health effects of red wine, see Yale-New Haven Hospital or the American Heart Association.

Or, if you just want to see how the French de-stress, take a look at this fun site.

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