Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


So wine is good for you after all!

Catching up on the latest on drinking and health I found that the Times had recently set out several good reasons why you should drink wine, especially red wine.

It can help boost your memory – according to researchers at the University of Exeter. Given up to 4 units of alcohol volunteers remembered lists of words better than those who had none. Wine grapes contain anti-oxidants called polyphenols with one of them, resveratrol, particularly associated with health benefits including keeping muscles supple.

Red wine contains more of the anti-oxidant resveratrol which has been linked with longer life span in animals and anti-cancer effects on cells in laboratories.

Another study found that a phenolic compound found in champagne helped improve spatial memory. So best to drink champagne if you have to find your way back home afterwards!

Wine can also protect against diabetes, which has got to be a good thing given the increasing number of people with it in the UK. So 14 units a week for men and nine for women reduces the chance of Type 2 diabetes by 43% for men and 58% for women!

Several studies have looked at the effect of drinking wine on the immune system and a University of California study in 2013 found that a glass of wine a day helped stave off infections such as colds. The effect was found to be especially strong, in an earlier study, among people who drank more than 14 units a week. They had 40% less chance of catching a cold than teetotallers. Again red wine better than white because it has more of the anti-oxidants.

Studies in Denmark of over 20,000 post-menopausal women found that drinking wine can have a protective effect on the heart. Other studies suggest that moderate drinkers have lower rates of heart disease compared to teetotallers, hence the view that wine is good for your heart.

This may be due to a flavonoid called procyanadin which is linked to lower blood pressure.The best wines for this are those where the skin and seeds have remained in contact with the grapes during fermentation such as those from the Nuoro province of Sardinia and Madiran in the Pyrenees.

Researchers in Canada also believe, after studying over 9,000 adults aged 23 to 55, that moderate drinkers i.e. those who drink up to two glasses a day, had a lower risk of heart disease than non-drinkers. This effect wore off as people got older however. The scientists think that the reason teetotallers are more at risk is not that they don’t drink – but they are probably ill or can’t drink because of their medication.

Studies at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that women who drank 3 glasses of wine a day were half as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, a disease where the immune system attacks the joints rather than infections as it is supposed to do. Drinking wine might interfere with that process.

Italian scientists in Milan think that the compounds tyrosol and caffein acid, found in white wine, act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Two glasses a day maximum could reduce the inflammatory reaction

Red wine has also been linked with breast cancer. Studies in California found that red wine reduces the oestrogen levels and elevates testosterone levels in pre-menopausal women. White wine didn’t have the same effect.

However there is also research from the World Cancer Fund which suggest that women drinking only half a glass of wine a day increases a woman’s risk of cancer after menopause by 9%.

And women who want to get pregnant should be aware of the Danish research that shows that drinking one glass of wine a day lowered the chance of conceiving by 18%

So good news overall with some caveats. Red wine seems better than white except for people with rheumatoid arthritis and probably no wine at all if you are trying to get pregnant.

Other posts on drinking wine here and here

 


Drinking wine gives your brain a good workout

As you relax over the Bank Holiday weekend avoid the fizzy drinks that shrink your brain, stick to wine and give your brain a workout.

Doesn’t matter if its red or white. Either will do the job and make your brain work harder.

According to a neuroscientist drinking wine “engages more of the brain than any other human behaviour“.

Professor Gordon Shepherd has spent ten years developing a science of neurogastronomy and researching this subject at the Yale School of Medicine (I wonder what their wine bill has been?) and has now published his findings on wine drinking in a book; Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine.

One of his findings is that spitting out the wine at wine tastings prevents you fully appreciating the wine. (I always thought they spat it out so they wouldn’t get drunk before they’d sampled everything).

Swallowing the wine is a key process and vital for “obtaining the most information possible about the quality of the wine”. Well I always thought wine was for drinking so that’s good advice – if a bit obvious.

More seriously he has shown that it is our psychological, sensory and physical response to food and drink that combine to create flavours in objects that don’t inherently possess it.

Taste is an illusion created by the brain largely influenced through smell. The movement of the wine through the mouth and of air through the throat and nose are key, especially the movement of molecules released in the mouth when we breathe out. So sniffing in advance may be a waste of time.

Wine drinking engages more of the brain than listening to music or solving a maths problem apparently. “The molecules in wine don’t have a taste or flavour but when they stimulate our brains our brain creates flavour the same way it creates colour”.

Moving the wine inside the mouth engages intricate muscles that control the tongue as well as stimulating thousands of taste and odour receptors. That is then processed through a frame of reference that is “heavily dependent on our own memories and emotions and those of our companions” as well as the composition of our saliva and our age and gender.

Research in the UK at Oxford University also demonstrated how complicated our relationship with food can be and how our enjoyment of it is influenced by environmental and other factors.

But back to the wine. Once you’ve had a few you’ve saturated the system which perhaps proves the point about having the good stuff first and then moving on to the plonk when everyone’s had a few.

And while you’re digesting this science – and hopefully testing it out in a real world laboratory – you can get rid of your long-stemmed glasses.

Now the only way to drink your wine – and any other serious booze – is from a tumbler. It’s the new relaxed ambience according to those who claim to know these things.

“Formal stemmed glasses feel quite traditional … don’t be afraid to have mismatched selections on your table

This is part of the Polpo aesthetic, the tumbler style of drinking showcased by the award-winning Venetian restaurant as a reaction to the exhausting “sleek, chic” protocol of the early Noughties.

Gosh I sound so pretentious even writing this stuff!

But it’s also a response to the recession, social media and the “democratisation of food” or what a famous chef called “elbows on the table kind of food“. It might also be about wanting to be more relaxed at home where we feel more secure (maybe the Danish Hygge influence?).

Also traditional glasses are breakable, not dishwasher friendly and take up lots of room on your shelf.

Well I have to say I’ve been drinking wine out of a tumbler for a couple of years now. I bought some small wine glasses when I was on medication so I could easily control how much I drank and the habit stuck when I came off the meds.

But eventually the glasses broke and rather than grab a large long-stemmed glass I used a tumbler. Any tumbler from a whisky glass to a coloured cheapy from Tesco that reminds me of those unbreakable Duralex glasses we use to have at school.

More importantly, I’m a big fan of Inspector Salvo Montalbano, the cool Sicilian detective that appeared on our screens a few years ago. And he always drinks his wine from a tumbler!

Cheers!