Allegrini 2018

“Wine and Health”, pairing culture and polyphenols is possible. Especially for younger people

Giorgio Calabrese, Alberto Zangrillo and Vincenzo Montemurro, discuss viewpoints at Assoenologi Conference round table

Health is a respected topic in the wine world, even though over the years wine and health have often been represented as diametrically opposed. Lately, though, more and more studies and experts have been demonstrating the prospect of a completely positive relationship between “Wine and Health”, the theme at the center of the round table, moderated by the journalist and small screen personality as well as a winemaker in Puglia, Bruno Vespa. It was the highlight of the oenologist association, Assoenologi Conference, exceptionally hosted by Wine2Wine Digital, the Vinitaly & Veronafiere business forum, online from November 21st to November 24th. However, the event is ready to return to its “normal” format in 2021. As the Assoenologi president, Riccardo Cotarella pointed out, the event “will take place in Genoa, where we should have been this year, either in June or November, in the hopes of returning to normal as soon as possible. We still need to choose the central theme, but we have lots of ideas about it and lots of friends, too”.
In the meantime, three of the leading experts on the subject have been discussing “Wine and Health”: Professor Giorgio Calabrese, doctor specializing in Food Science, professor of Human Nutrition and consultant to the Ministry of Health; Professor Alberto Zangrillo, head of the Anesthesia and General and Cardiothoracic-Vascular Unit of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, and Vincenzo Montemurro, cardiologist and vice president of the Italian Heart Foundation. The main theme, of course, is the role of wine, from a purely scientific point of view; not just wine in diets, but also in the functioning of our organism”. “Wine is not a drink, but rather a liquid food”, said Giorgio Calabrese, which is a concept that is especially important to him. “We need to acknowledge that a glass of good wine with meals, which certainly does not replace water, but accompanies food, is conceivable. The work we have been doing since 1987, together with colleagues from all over the world, has shown us that in grapes, and therefore in wine, there are substances that go beyond digesting and pleasure. Polyphenol is a set of substances naturally present in grapes, in the skin and the rest of the grape. It has antioxidant properties that defend us from free radicals. Furthermore, we are redefining the DNA of our cells to have not only a longer life, but also higher quality. The abstainer”, Calabrese joked, but only partially, “can be a teetotaler, and also be aware of losing something that is useful for the quality of life”.
It is precisely on the quality of life that different points of view and assumptions have met, as Alberto Zangrillo explained in his speech. “I am always looking for what comes our way to be able to live better and longer. Today, an American child has a life expectancy of 78 years, an Italian instead, a few more. The genetic code and DNA function have been studied for a very long time. Epigenetics is now becoming increasingly popular; that is, what we ourselves determine, what we do, how we live, how we interact with nature. Polyphenols are all in the plant world, and it is a very important category of molecules, because they protect our cells from the dysregulation of our genetic code, which then alters the ability of our cells to replicate. The antioxidant polyphenols are protective elements”, emphasized Zangrillo, “and are contained in wine, though it is an understatement to say that there is an automatic benefit in consuming wine. They are components, especially resveratrol, which play a fundamental role”.
The cardiologist Vincenzo Montemurro took a more strictly scientific point of view, and said, “there are many studies that demonstrate the cardio-protective action of alcohol, especially wine. The polyphenols contained in wine have the ability to neutralize free radicals, and also resveratrol has an antioxidant action. It is a skill that the human body develops by drawing on its diet. Furthermore, polyphenols have an anti-inflammatory action, and this is what is most important: 30-40 grams of alcohol per day are appropriate in a daily diet”.
The relationship between wine and young people is a delicate and sometimes controversial aspect that still needs to be resolved, especially considering that alcohol consumption is much more widespread, and still too often irresponsible. “Wine as food is very different from spirits”, Calabrese continued. “Young people should be introduced to wine when the liver is fully developed; that is, between 17-18 years old, not before. And we must educate young people to realize that wine is not to be consumed to get drunk, but rather to be tasted. One of the pros of wine, which distinguish it from other alcoholic beverages, is sirtuin proteins, which we have been working on for quite some time. It is believed that wine will make you gain weight, while instead these proteins, paired with resveratrol, act on fat metabolism and defend the liver. Drinking a glass of wine can thus act as a “degreaser” of the liver, adding little fat and making better use of plant cells. Overly sugared drinks, or beer, as an alternative to water, are precisely what is not good for our body. Wine”, reiterated Giorgio Calabrese, “as a liquid food allows us to have both a history to be protected and a future to be built”.
Zangrillo expands the analysis far beyond the simple relationship between young people and alcohol, explaining that “the disease of the century is depression: 6% of the world population suffers from it. It is interesting that this pathology is linked to addictions, including alcohol abuse. There is an urgent need to implement an educational plan. I observe what surrounds us. For instance, what used to be the sign of emancipation, smoking, has been replaced by alcohol, but not quality alcohol that alleviates anxiety and depression. In this phase of our lives, what is lacking is the small reward that comes from socializing and sharing a glass of good wine. This is a very grave moment: if we do not take care of our young people, we will lose them. Nightlife is considered a negative phenomenon, and in the end it is a vice, like the aperitif, where the drinks are terrible, and the food is even worse. It is in this sense”, said Zangrillo, “that we must reset our way of life. Wine is the cornerstone of our reasoning: we offer a product that is the source for a project that will lead young people to eat, live and drink better. This is how we will live better and longer”.
In terms of alcohol consumption among young people, wine has a lot fewer side effects; or rather it has something extra. Even though, Montemurro commented, “as far as quantities are concerned, you can drink a whole bottle of beer containing 4 percent alcohol, while it is recommended not to drink more than 4 cl of spirits. These are modest quantities, but it is evident that wine has something more: polyphenols. Not only resveratrol, but also quercetin has the ability to inhibit Covid-19 protease. These characteristics are related to wine, and not to other spirits”.

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