Does better psychological functioning and social class explain the health benefits of wine?




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Wine has gained attention over the past few years as having benefits other than culinary and social.1 Compounds found in wine called polyphenols possess antioxidant properties.2 One specific chemical in wine, resveratrol, has been shown to have possible estrogenic properties and may be beneficial as a chemopreventive agent in breast cancer.3 In addition, researchers in Lyon, France identified what has come to be known as the “French Paradox”. These researchers took data from the World Health Organization that showed that high fat consumption increased the risk of heart disease. They then identified populations in France that had high fat consumption, yet low rates of heart disease, concluding that it was the wine that made the difference.
Since that time, scientists have been perplexed as to how they can explain this paradox, looking closely at the constituents of wine to prove its medicinal properties one way or another. As that research continues, new information is coming to light that may give some additional explanations. One such study has shown the relationship between wine and health to be less physical and more social/emotional.
This Danish study examined numerous social, cognitive, and personality characteristics in an effort to identify factors that may possibly explain the health benefits associated with wine consumption. The characteristics evaluated included socioeconomic status, education, IQ, personality, psychiatric symptoms, and also health-related behaviors including alcohol consumption. The evaluation included 363 men and 330 women between the ages of 29 and 34 years from Denmark. Higher IQ, higher parental educational level, and higher socioeconomic status were all significantly associated with wine consumption.
The opposite findings were associated with beer consumption. Wine consumption was also associated with "optimal functioning" for the measures of personality, psychiatric symptoms, and health-related behaviors, whereas beer consumption was associated with "sub optimal functioning". The authors concluded that their "data demonstrate that wine drinking is a general indicator of optimal social, cognitive, and personality development in Denmark. Similar social, cognitive, and personality factors have also been associated with better health in many populations. Consequently, the association between drinking habits and social and psychological characteristics, in large part, may explain the apparent health benefits of wine."


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2. Brenna OV, Pagliarini E., Multivariate analysis of antioxidant power and polyphenolic composition in red wines. J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Oct;49(10):4841-4.
3. Bhat KP, Lantvit D, Christov K, Mehta RG, Moon RC, Pezzuto JM. Estrogenic and Antiestrogenic Properties of Resveratrol in Mammary Tumor Models. Cancer Res. 2001 Oct 15;61(20):7456-7463.