We at Ballon Juice HQ understand the importance of drinking safely. If, for example, you’re reading this blog while drinking and driving we recommend that you should stop at least one of those things and probably two. But let’s think about the word ‘safety’ for a minute. If you define safety as reducing your risk of illness or death there’s more wisdom to be mined from modern science than merely handing over your keys to a friend. Don’t take my word for it when you could listen to the accredited experts at Hahvahd:
It’s safe to say that alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose. Moderate drinking seems to be good for the heart and circulatory system, and probably protects against type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Heavy drinking is a major cause of preventable death in most countries. In the U.S., alcohol is implicated in about half of fatal traffic accidents.(1) Heavy drinking can damage the liver and heart, harm an unborn child, increase the chances of developing breast and some other cancers, contribute to depression and violence, and interfere with relationships.
…More than 100 prospective studies show an inverse association between moderate drinking and risk of heart attack, ischemic (clot-caused) stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, and death from all cardiovascular causes.(4)
…Moderate amounts of alcohol raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol),(6) and higher HDL levels are associated with greater protection against heart disease. Moderate alcohol consumption has also been linked with beneficial changes in a variety of factors that influence blood clotting, such as tissue type plasminogen activator, fibrinogen, clotting factor VII, and von Willebrand factor.(6)
…The benefits of moderate drinking aren’t limited to the heart. In both the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, gallstones and type 2 diabetes were less likely to occur in moderate drinkers than in nondrinkers. (11-13)
They go on to talk about what happens to you when you’re not moderate, but come on. Here at Balloon Juice we effing define moderate.
Alternatively, the poindexters at Harvard define ‘moderate’ as one drink or so per day with some wiggle room for weekends and Las Vegas. If you’re going to follow their advice and limit yourself to one drink a day, here’s a chance to talk about the boffest single bottle of beer that I’ve ever had and, according to not a few gourmands at the Beer Advocate one of the best on our blue-green marble: #10 from Trappistes Rochefort in Belgium.
Impossibly rich with unapologetic doses of sediment and protein, Rochefort pours dark with a generous head that never dies. Rochefort 10 presents a full suite of overtones and undertones, well-balanced and sweetish, that I can’t begin to describe. Made by actual trappist monks, you can sip on Rochefort 10 for hours, which is fine because at 11.3% this is the opposite of a session beer. You owe it to yourself to pony up for at least one before you die or your wife spots the $12/bottle price tag.
Today’s non-beer alternative carries on with the theme of health food that they don’t have to force us to eat. In fact, I’d argue that of the great things about our modern age is how the stuff we already like is increasingly turning out to be good for us.
The story starts more than sixty years ago when scientists found that rats lived quite a bit longer when kept on a starvation diet, and got sick a lot less. This turned out to be true for every species tested, with the unfortunate drawback that the long-lived critters became practically sterile. Science remained stalled at that paradox for decades – on the one hand you could live quite a bit longer (30-60% longer, if rats are a guide) and remain healthy longer, but on the other hand you’d be starving and miserable and wouldn’t enjoy sex.
Skip to the modern era. Some years back an upstart biochemist named David Sinclair realized that we might have a chance to shortcut the biological pathway that makes our bodies think that we’re starving, so that we can get all the benefit of the low-calorie diet without the part where you starve all day and pass up on reproduction as a pastime. Ignoring the advice of colleagues who told him to keep out of the aging field, which at that point was mostly phenomenological and a place where good careers went to die, Sinclair wagered his career on the idea that the benefit from starvation came from reassigning our body’s resources towards DNA quality-control rather than reproduction. Following up on that noion Sinclair purified an important DNA quality-control step in a test tube and tested the ability of tens of thousands of random chemicals to speed up the process, e.g. make cells more careful to proofread DNA while duplicating it. After a year’s work he had a candidate.
True to his model, Sinclair found that resveratrol significantly extended the lifespan of common laboratory model organisms such as yeast, worms and flies, suggesting that its function persists at every level of the animal kingdom. He also found that pretreatement with resveratrol reduced the risk of cancer in laboratory rats, not much of a surprise when you think that cancer basically comes from sloppy DNA quality control. Most importantly (to some), resveratrol mimicked the positive effects of a low-calorie diet without the problem of infertility. If you want to get a sense of how much work has tied resveratrol to a surprising range of therapeutic effects, including protecting the brain against neurodegeneration , skim through the references here.
As cool as that is there’s a reason why you’re reading about it on Friday. Early in his work Sinclair sent chemist minions all over the map to find out where you find this stuff growing in nature. He found one, solitary source:
It might sound a bit too convenient if it weren’t true – the only place where you find resveratrol in any significant quantity is in red wine. One of the chief problems with maintaining the compound is that it oxidizes in a heartbeat, which means that it won’t last very long exposed to air. That’s why grape juice won’t do you any good even if the same yeast that infuses red wine with its chemical goodness also grows on your juicing grapes. Contrariwise, wine drinkers know that wine stays in the reduced state (the opposite of oxidized) until it’s been open awhile. That means that as the yeast grows in fermenting wine, it deposits resveratrol which stays intact until the day that you decide to uncork the bottle; then you’ve got about a day before the resveratrol is mostly gone along with the balance of most reds.
The oxidation question explains why both John and I are so big on those Australian boxed wines. You can ‘uncork’ one of these and, though quality-control can be hit or miss, you’ll have a fresh glass a night for a few weeks.
Sinclair won’t say which labels come particularly high in resveratrol, but he will say that you can reliably find more in Pinot Noir than in most other varieties. Yeah, I know, as if restaurants didn’t already have to deal with a bunch of Pinot-crazy Paul Giamatti fans.
To your health, then.