Today’s world of social media and on-line news means that information travels at literally the speed of light. It also reaches a greater number of people than ever before, and we think this is a very good thing. The problem today is one of trying to sort the truths from the fictions, the information from the disinformation and the real news from the fake news. Recently wine has been a topic appearing in the news with conflicting views as to what if any effect it has on our immune system and hence our chances of getting COVID-19. AdVINEtures decided to do the research and let you know what is really going on…
First, there are “currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 or its new variants being spread through food or food packing” according to the Government of Canada website. Drinking wine won’t cause COVID-19, a fact that is probably quite well-known and not the subject of much debate.
Much more controversial is the subject of what effect consuming wine might have on your immune system and therefore on your body’s ability to resist COVID. Perhaps the biggest entity to suggest that drinking might affect your chances of getting COVID is none other than the WHO, the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, and as such it carries considerable weight when it renders a view. However, the WHO itself has come under criticism relative to COVID with the US asserting that China was too influential in WHO decision-making. This criticism climaxed in July of 2020 with Donald Trump announcing he was withdrawing the US from the WHO. The actual withdrawal won’t take place until June of this year and with a new US Government in place, this action might not go ahead.
Not withstanding any controversy, the WHO remains a major voice in the health community and should be listened to. The WHO has a negative stance on this subject and has stated that, among other effects, “Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.” In that same paper the WHO goes on to recommend: “Avoid alcohol altogether so that you do not undermine your own immune system and health and do not risk the health of others.” How does the immune system work? When you are exposed to a virus, your body if functioning properly will mount an immune response to attack and kill the foreign pathogen. The healthier your immune system, the quicker it will eradicate the virus, the faster your recovery. By default, alcohol makes it more difficult for your immune system to do its job.
This is pretty serious stuff for us wine drinkers. We at AdVINEtures believe in our responsibility to look after ourselves and to promote good health. Are we, now that we are aware of this information, going to stop drinking wine (or other alcoholic beverages) altogether? For us the answer is “no”, but that is just our personal choice and we are in no way recommending that anyone else follow in our footsteps. Lest we sound cavalier in our decision, allow us to explain why we will continue to drink wine in moderation.
We take a holistic approach to our health. To us, that means eating healthy foods, moderate alcohol consumption, regular exercise, proper sleep, low(er) stress and good overall emotional health. We do not attempt perfection in any one area, and we know we could do better in all these areas. We know we could eat a little better, and we could probably increase our exercise regimes. For us, though, good enough is good enough.
We are also very aware of some of the counterarguments to the WHO’s pronouncements on alcohol and the immune system. First, the WHO merely says that alcohol weakens the immune system, but it does not talk about how much, other than to say that excessive consumption is very harmful. Just how harmful is moderate consumption to your immune system? Nate Favini, MD, is a doctor at Forward, a leading healthcare provider combining both virtual and in-person care, has said “a moderate amount of drinking — one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men per the United States Dietary Guidelines for Americans — is generally safe for people in good health and unlikely to have a negative effect on their immune systems.” The WHO also refers only to alcohol and does not discuss the effects of other compounds that can be found in some alcoholic beverages, specifically wine. Wine has many well-known health benefits, which include:
- It is rich in antioxidants, the compounds that prevent cellular damage caused by inflammation and oxidative stress
- Resveratrol is another compound found in wine that has anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit health
- Wine could promote a healthier heart through its concentration of polyphenol antioxidants that could reduce high blood pressure.
But recently the medical community has discovered that wine possesses another compound that could potentially help your body fight COVID-19: tannins. Tannins are the compounds found in grape skins, stems and pips that cause a drying sensation on your palate and can potentially impart a slightly bitter taste to a wine. They also are a significant contributor to a wines longevity and give wine its structure. Tannin is more prevalent in red wine than it is in white wine. Mien-Chie Hung, President of China Medical University, Taiwan, was reported in The Drinks Business as saying “The initial plan of the research is to call out natural compounds that may have an effect on SARS, and then use the protease of the new coronavirus to detect them and tannic acid was found in the result. It bears the strongest inhibitory ability.”
During the 2003 SARS pandemic, tannic acid was proven as an effective treatment and shown to be capable of preventing infection and controlling the growth of viruses. SARS is not COVID-19 (it is in fact SARS-CoV-2) but both are forms of a coronavirus and so this does give some hope in dealing with the current pandemic. Dr. Hung told the Wine Spectator “It has not been tested against COVID-19 yet. We only know tannic acid can inhibit Mpro, a key protease that is required for SARS-CoV-2 virus replication. Tannic acid has a dual function—inhibition of both SARS-CoV-2 virus infection to human cells and virus replication in the cells (if the virus has already entered the human cells)—one stone, two birds.”
From a health perspective, wine has both its pluses and minuses. We have weighed those pluses against those minuses and decided that for us we will continue to drink wine in moderation. We will continue our generally healthy lifestyle. We benefit from the antioxidants in wine and hope that the positive effects of tannins counter-balance any negative effect on our immune system. We are not saying this choice should work for anyone else, just that it works for us. One last feature that wine brings us that tips the scales in its favour is that wine makes us happy. And these days we are very grateful for anything that can make us happy!