Wine as Therapy

THE DRINKING OF WINE is as old as history and has historically been regarded as a necessary, even sacred, part of our lives.Over 2,500 years ago, Cyrus the Great required wine to be carried by his troops. Jesus turned water into wine for the wedding feast. The good Samaritan used wine along with olive oil for healing. And for centuries, Italian women have drunk wine throughout their pregnancies and given birth to healthy infants.

Yet today, in what amounts to a new, government-sponsored Temperance campaign, we are advised against drinking all alcoholic beverages, even wine. Wine, along with hard liquor, is considered dangerous to our health. But is wine the same as hard liquor? Wine and hard liquor are produced differently. Wine is produced by fermenting grapes or grape juice until the alcohol content rises to a percentage (usually 10%), that is sufficient to kill the yeast. At that point, the wine is poured off and bottled.

Liquor, on the other hand, is produced by boiling a fermented mash or wine, collecting the resulting vapors, and diluting these condensed vapors with water to get the desired alcohol concentration. Whiskey, vodka, brandy, gin, rum liqueurs are basically distilled alcohol and may reach alcohol concentrations as high as fifty percent or more.

A high level of alcohol in the blood is associated with alcoholism and all its ill effects: the formation of cirrhosis of the liver, fetal damage, heart disease and cancer. According to Charles S. Lieber, who has researched the effects of alcoholism:

Alcohol causes primary malnutrition by displacing nutrients in the diet and secondary malnutrition via malabsorption and cellular injury. Heptotoxicity results from metabolic disturbances associated with the oxidation of ethanol via liver alcohol dehydrogenase(ADA).(602)

The small amounts of alcohol in wine, however, are not harmful, but health-giving and, as borne out by history and subsequent twentieth-century scientific research, digestible, for wine stimulates the release of the hormone gastrin, which in turns stimulates the release of enzymes in the stomach, among them the enzyme called gastric alcohol and converts it into vinegar, or acetate (Frezza 127). Thus, wine stimulates the release of digestive enzymes, which digest not only the alcohol but the many other nutrients found in wine, whereas the high levels of alcohol in distilled alcoholic beverages cause a decrease and finally a deficiency in the release of digestive enzymes that contributes to malnutrition and, if not held in check, to alcoholism.

Extensive research has shown that alcoholism is seldom seen in communities where wine drinking is customary:

Alcoholism is rare when wine is customarily used with meals, and especially where it is introduced as a food in family surroundings relatively early in childhood.(Lucia 205)

On the contrary, wine drinking offers many health benefits. Both alcohol and wine can lower the "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and raise the "good" (HDL) and it has been shown that red wine, fermented with its skins, can reduce heart disease. An investigation conducted in Rosseta, Pennsylvania, of obese Italian men who made and drank their homemade wine, found them virtually free of cardiovascular disorders (Stout 845).

Dr. Serge Renaud, head of the Lyon center of INSREM, France states:

"It is well documented that a moderate intake of alcohol prevents coronary heart disease by as much as fifty percent. There is no other drug that is so effective (at preventing heart disease) as moderate intakes of alcohol, but it has to be given at a proper dosage (Perdue 7).

The proper dosage, or a moderate intake of wine, in addition to affecting cholesterol levels favorably, decreases the tendency of blood to clot and assists in dissolving clots, all important factors in protecting against heart disease. Research also indicates that moderate wine drinking may reduce the tendency of arteries to constrict during stress, lower blood pressure, and increase coronary artery diameter and blood flow.

If we look at the history of wine as therapy, we find it recommended from the beginning of recorded history as a cure not only for heart disease, but for virtually every disease known: cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, anemia, anorexia, high blood pressure, pain & fevers and even alcoholism. But when we list the many phytochemicals and nutrients found in wine, we understand why it is so health giving.

Dr. Salvatore Lucia, former professor of the University of California School of Medicine, points out, since the beginning of modern science researchers have identified in wine such important nutrients as iron and potassium; B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, niacin, and folic acid; Vitamin C; and rutin, thought to promote the resistance of the capillaries to hemorrhage (196-197). More recently, wine has been identified as a dependable source of quercetin, a potent anti-carcinogen, and of many flavinoids and other polyphenolic antioxidants (Watkins 4,166). Recently, scientific investigation has shown that wine, but not alcohol or unfermented grapes, contains powerful antibiotics as well as remarkable antiviral agents.

Today, researchers are discovering and isolating the specific factors in wine that explain its curative powers. For instance, in 1991, two Cornell researchers identified the phytonutrient phenolic reveratrol which:

Alters the synthesis and secretion of lipids and lipoproteins by a human liver cell line; blocks human platelet aggregation in vitro; and inhibits the synthesis of pro-aggregatory and pro-inflammatory eicosanoids by platelets and neutrophils respectively (Goldberget al 24).

Wine is indeed a remarkable substance, when even commercially produced wine can offer such health benefits. Health researchers note that crop quality(of the grapes) is moderatered by environmental and soil factors (Watkins 4). Commercially produced wine is made from grapes that are grown with aid of petrochemicals and high nitrogen fertilizers, herbicide and pesticide sprays. The wine is often fermented after the grapeskins are removed, then treated with bentonite, egg albumin, sulfur, sulfur dioxide or other chemicals, and bolstered with distilled alcohol or refined sugar, none of these particularly health giving. Consider then the yet more beneficial advantages to be gained by drinking wine from organically grown grapes and fermented with the skins intact, made as it has been throughout the centuries.

The high concentrations of the phtyochemicals, glycoproteins, anticarcinogens, antibiotics, and anti-viral agents that make wine especially valuable are found in naturally unfiltered, unrefined wines that been fermented with the skins.

In grape berries, reveratrol synthesis is primarily located at the skin cells and it is absent or low, in the fruit flesh. In red vinification, maceration with skins and seeds during fermentation contributes to the extraction of the phenols present in the firmer tissue(Lamuela-Raventos 57).

Wine, particularly organic wine, drunk in moderation, is a healthy, nourishing food. Only in recent times has it been classified as hazardous to health. Concurrently, only in recent times has scientific research verified the extent of its healing powers.


  • Frezza et al. New England Journal of Medicine 322 (2;1990): 95-99; Editorial:127-129
  • Goldberg, David al. "Identification and Assay of Trihydroxystilbenes in Wine and their Biological Properties" in Lewis Perdue, ed., The French Paradox and Beyond: 24-43
  • Hegsted, D.M., and L.M. Ausman. Journal of Nutrition 118 (19880: 1184-1189
  • Lamuela-raventos, Rosa M., et al. "Resveratrol and Piceid Levels in wine Production and in Finished Wine" in Tom R. Watkins, ed., Wine: Nutritional and Therapeutic Benefits: 56-58
  • Lieber, Charles S. " A Personal Perspective on Alcoholism, Nutrition, and the Liver." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 58 (3; September 1993): 430-442
  • Lucia, Salvatore P. A History of Wine as Therapy (Philadelphia, Pa.:Lippincott, 1963).
  • Perdue, Lewis. The French Paradox and Beyond (Sonoma, CA: Renaissance Publishing, 1992)
  • Stout, J. American Medical Association News 188 (1964): 845.
  • Watkins, Tom R., ed. Wine: Nutritional and Therapeutic Benefits (Washington DC: American Chemical Society, 1997).

Thanks to Stig R. Erlander for his contribution to this article.