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Why social drinking is integral to a longer life

Social drinking of wine in moderation is critical to the success of the world’s Blue Zones, where the average life expectancy is at its highest. James Evison explores the importance of it to health.

Writing in GQ about the phenomena, Dr Kien Vuu, the author of Thrive State, said that it wasn’t necessarily due to the health benefits of wine, but was due to the socialisation that comes “hand-in-hand with imbibing now and then”.

He argued that we should say ‘Yes to Happy Hour’, and a glass of wine was critical to health when consumed in a social setting, as it was in the so-called Blue Zones, which comprises of the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Icaria in Greece.

These areas are the places in the world which have the highest life expectancy with the most centenarians, and numerous books and studies have been written about the ‘zones’ in an attempt for their health secrets to be replicated elsewhere.

Vuu said: “In longevity cultures, moderate alcohol consumption often occurs in a social context, emphasising the role of community and celebration.

“Positive relationships contribute to mental and emotional well-being.”

Roseto study

The concept was also highlighted in author Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers which featured the town of Roseto in Pennsylvania which was made up from immigrants from the same town of Roseto Valfortore that lies one hundred miles southeast of Rome, in the Apennine foothills of the Italian province of Foggia.

According to Gladwell, a local doctor called Stewart Wolf who discovered that the secret to the long life of Rosetans was due to the communal aspect of their lives. In terms of health, many were obese and smoked, and had similar dietary profiles to other Americans, albeit more skewed towards the staples of Italian cuisine, such as pizza and pasta.

But there were 22 civic organisations in a town of just under 2000 people, so, Wolf saw the relative long-life, and lack of heart attacks and coronary disease that was rife in similar communities across America, could only be explained by the sociality of the people who lived there, and how relaxing with friends, family and the local community played a critical role in heart health.

New study

The news comes as for decades, the consumption of a glass or two of red wine has been seen as a key part of the diet, often mooted as the pinnacle of a well-balanced, varied regime by scientists. But a four-year study is set to question this well-established judgement.

The paper published by Dr Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, called Should we remove wine from the Mediterranean diet?, and which forms the launching point for a European Research Council four-year study involving 10,000 Spaniards aged 50-75.

However, the study does not focus specifically on the social aspect of drinking, and how relaxing and reducing stress is an important metric when discussing the health benefits of a glass of wine or beer. Stress and anxiety, according to heart experts, can result in higher blood pressure, poor sleep patterns and anxiety, which can impact heart health.

A study by American scientists last year also explained why light-to-moderate alcohol consumption could lower the risk of heart disease, with the researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, discovered that alcohol in moderate quantities was associated with long-term reductions in stress signalling in the brain.

As a result, the positive impact on stress in the brain appeared to account for the reduction in cardiovascular events in people who are light to moderate drinkers. Previous studies had suggested that one or two drinks per day was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Good for the spirit

Last month, db editor-in-chief Patrick Schmitt MW argued how wine in “small doses does good for the spirit” and that it “relieves stress and promotes conversation” but it also provides “a sensory pleasure” due to its taste and smell.

The original concept of wine being good for health was highlighted in a famous 60 Minutes TV show by scientists Serge Renaud in the 1990s.

He initiated much of the work looking at the healthy benefits of red wine consumption and its ability to help prevent various heart diseases – something he attributed to growing up with his grandparents in Bordeaux.

He once said of his work: “If I hadn’t lived with my grandparents and great-grandparents on a vineyard near Bordeaux, perhaps this idea wouldn’t have occurred to me.

“When you see people reach the age of 80 or 90 years, who have been drinking small amounts of wine every day, you don’t believe wine in low doses is harmful.”


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