This Valentine’s Day, put your heart into feeling good

I’m not usually a romantic advice columnist. But this Valentine’s Day, I could come close.

That’s because tonight, I suggest you enjoy a special dinner with your family, good friends, or that special someone. I hope you unwind and relax with a nice glass of red wine, a cold beer, or a festive cocktail. Even indulge in some good, dark chocolate.

It does sound romantic, I’ll admit. But before you think I’ve gone all “soft” in the center (like those chocolates I don’t recommend), let me explain some purely scientific intentions…

As I often report, major research shows that eating a small amount of chocolate every day is good for you! Just make sure you eat hard, dark chocolate. And the darker, the better. So, go for something that contains at least 60 to 85 percent cacao. And remember, even if you think you don’t like dark chocolate, give it a try. A recent study found that most people can tolerate dark chocolate, even if they said they preferred “milk chocolate.” It’s all a matter of acquired taste.

Of course, milk chocolate is lighter and sweeter than dark chocolate. But it doesn’t contain nearly as many beneficial, biologically active compounds as dark chocolate. Plus, it has the sugar and excess calories you don’t want in your diet.

For example, dark chocolate contains many more flavonoids than milk chocolate. And these antioxidants help reduce your risk of heart disease. Specifically, they appear to protect the walls of your blood vessels. And that’s a big deal. Because damage to your blood vessels, left unchecked, can lead to atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Many people think that the taste of chocolate goes well with red wine. Indeed, I am forever grateful to my friends from high school and college days, Paul and Rosa Meehan, for introducing me to that combination during one festive holiday season. (Their dad was Chairman of Physiology at University of Southern California School of Medicine, so I trusted them!)

And, of course, as I said earlier this week, loads of research over the years confirms the heart health benefits of moderate wine consumption. You see, like chocolate, red wine contains flavonoids. And these antioxidants protect the blood vessels and prevent blood clots.

But there’s more to the story…

Even if you don’t drink red wine, I think you’ll get beneficial results drinking beer or spirits. In moderation, of course. That’s because light-to-moderate drinking of any kind reduces stress. And stress is the No. 1 silent killer when it comes to heart disease.

In fact, many researchers now recognize that light-to-moderate drinking in general protects against heart disease. You see, alcohol in moderation has a beneficial blood-thinning and circulatory effect, which protects against heart attack and stroke. So, it doesn’t have to be red wine. Interestingly, beer and chocolate actually go quite well together. I learned that when I lived in Southeast Asia, where red wine was unavailable or just too expensive.

Some researchers, physicians and politicians remain reluctant to acknowledge alcohol’s benefits, despite these findings. Yet, they base their entire argument on the fact that only red wine lowers cholesterol.

Of course, you know how I feel about the whole cholesterol argument. And if you don’t, take a look through my archives.

So, whether you prefer wine, beer or spirits, make a toast to good health on Valentine’s Day. It’s no accident that cultures around the world have been making toasts “to your health” in various languages for centuries. (Of course, alcohol abuse is still a serious problem among young and old in our society. So, I always advise against overdoing it.)

And that brings up another important point…

How you eat is equally important as what you eat. In fact, social eating and drinking with friends or family actually encourages good digestion. And it benefits your overall health.

Just consider the now-famous “Roseto” effect.

This term refers to a community of Italian-American immigrants who settled in Roseto, Pennsylvania. In the 1960s, researchers found that people in Roseto ate all the “wrong” foods brimming with cholesterol and natural fats. They drank red wine regularly. And the men smoked old-world style cigars. Yet they experienced shockingly lower rates of heart disease than the rest of the country.

The researchers concluded that the people of Roseto lived longer and healthier lives because of their tight social and community bonds.

Many years ago, when we moved to Bethesda, Maryland, there was still a restaurant around the corner owned and operated by Italians from Roseto. Appropriately enough, they called it “Ristorante Roseto.” In addition to healthy helpings of delicious foods, they offered live performances of operatic arias between courses.

Unfortunately, Ristorante Roseto soon fell to the wrecking ball as excessive government spending throughout the greater Washington, D.C. replaced neighborhood businesses and homes with government high-rises.

But what we learned about the town of Roseto still holds true today. Indeed, since the 1960s, numerous studies have found that strong, loving bonds with your family, friends, and community benefit your health. It can help:

  • prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease
  • boost your immune system
  • reduce your levels of stress chemicals and hormones
  • decrease your risk of early death and improves longevity

So, today, share a toast and a special meal with family or friends. It’s important for your health. And while you’re at it enjoy some dark chocolate and a glass of wine. Or even a beer or a cocktail, if that’s what suits you.

Here’s what else I covered in this week’s Daily Dispatch

Don’t become a teetotaler yet
A new study found that men who drink alcohol heavily at mid-life have decreased cognitive function later in life. But don’t give up that glass of wine with dinner just yet. As I’ve said many times, moderate drinking confers many health benefits–from improvements in bone health to reductions in stress and heart disease. It can even protect you against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Prevent a hangover with proper hydration and a key amino acid
Go ahead and enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner. It’s good for you! And it can even protects your brain against dementia. But any more than a glass or two per night on a regular basis can lead to trouble. In fact, drinking too much, even over the short term, is extremely toxic to your tissues. Fortunately, two natural remedies may help protect your tissues from toxins and oxidative stress after drinking.

How lackluster drugs become blockbuster drugs
Wellbutrin. Chantix. Lipitor. They’re all big-name, blockbuster drugs that make billions for Big Pharma. But how much do we really know about them? Certainly not as much as we’re led to believe. As I pointed out last month, Big Pharma only likes to publish the studies that show positive outcomes for their drugs. And they bury the studies that show their drugs don’t work, making lackluster drugs seem like “blockbuster” drugs.

Always on the side of science,

Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D.