Cabernet, cats and candy

November 19, 2006

It's no secret that the approaching holiday seasons can mean stressful times for many people. So it is welcome news from the world of research that doses of health and happiness can be found in places other than a bottle of Prozac.

Scientists have long touted the beneficial effects of moderate wine consumption, and they point to France and the Mediterranean region where red wine drinkers have fewer instances of heart disease.

Recently, researchers at the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Aging said resveratrol, a natural antibiotic produced in grape skins and a compound found in red wines, may counter the ill effects normally associated with high-fat diets. In various tests in which mice, a colony of yeast, roundworms, fruit flies and fish were given resveratrol, the subjects lived healthier lives.

On another health front, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says many pet owners are mentally and physically better off for exchanging long deep looks into the eyes of a loyal four-footed critter who only desires that you provide a pat on the head and a bowl of chow. Positive interaction with pets lowers stress in humans and, for the elderly, can provide a sense of usefulness and help combat loneliness. Pet expert and author Diane Pomerance goes so far as to say people who don't like people can still enjoy friendship by adopting a cat or dog.

If wine and pets aren't enough to make you feel good about being alive, here's the clincher. Dark chocolate provides swift gratification for the sweet tooth, but it also might offer safeguards against heart attacks and strokes. Diane Becker, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor, told The Sun's Frank D. Roylance that chemicals called flavonols, derived from cacao beans and found in some dark chocolates, help reduce the risk of blood clots among people with cardiovascular disease.

Worried that the holidays will be anything but happy? Here's a trifecta prescription: Sit down with a chunk of dark chocolate in one hand, a glass of red wine in the other and a purring cat in your lap.

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