A good red wine – can it be good for you!

red_wine_(boo_licious)

Red wine is claimed to be beneficial to health (Photo: boo_licious)

If you like a drop of red wine surely you would like the heading of this blog to be true. If you’re more for white wine or not a wine drinker at all maybe not so much. Fortunately we have something for both camps.

The story started with an initial paradox related to French red wine drinkers. Despite a relatively high fat intake and considerable consumption of red wine, unexpectedly this population had a low incidence of heart disease and obesity. In 1992, a researcher at the Bordeaux University in the middle of the famous wine district even coined the phrase “the French Paradox” to describe the anomaly.

In searching for compounds that could explain the paradox, scientists gradually honed in on a substance called resveratrol. Resveratrol is a powerful polyphenol compound found in the skins of grapes. Research now suggest that this compound may possess a range of health benefits including anti-cancer effects, anti-inflammatory effects, cardiovascular benefits, anti-diabetes potential, energy endurance enhancement, and protection against Alzheimer’s. You couldn’t wish for more. Good for the young and good for the old and even for the athlete.

Red wine contains between 0.2 and 5.8 mg/l of resveratrol, depending on the grape variety, while white wine has much less. This is because red wine is fermented with the skins, allowing the wine to extract the resveratrol, while white wine is fermented after the skin has been removed. The composition of wine is different from that of grapes since the extraction of resveratrol from grapes depends on the duration of the skin contact. The skin itself contains 50-100 µg/g.

So that’s the good news for red wine consumers.

The question would then be if we all should start drinking red wine? And the answer is maybe not just yet and here come the caveats.

Although moderate alcohol consumption has been consistently associated with 20-30% reductions in coronary heart disease risk, it is not yet clear whether red wine resveratrol provide any further risk reduction. It is true that resveratrol can inhibit growth of cancer cells in a culture and in some animal models, but it is not known whether it can prevent cancer in humans. It might even promote breast cancer. Resveratrol administration has increased the lifespans of yeast, worms, fruit flies, fish, and mice fed a high-calorie diet, but again this has not been shown in humans. So the brutal truth is that, at present, relatively little is known about the actual effects of resveratrol in humans.

Peanuts might equal red wine in health benefits (Photo: EuroMagic)

Peanuts might equal red wine in health benefits (Photo: EuroMagic)

Thus, if you prefer white wine, maybe you can still outlive the red wine connoisseur. At least if you eat some peanuts on the side. Because resveratrol can also be found in other food at varied levels. One of the most promising sources is peanuts, especially sprouted peanuts where the content rivals that in grapes. Before sprouting, it is in the range of 2.3 to 4.5 μg/g, and after sprouting, in the range of 11.7 to 25.7 μg/g depending upon peanut cultivar. Other food with appreciable resveratrol levels include red and purple grape juice, mulberries, cocoa powder, baking chocolate, and dark chocolate.

As usual scientists don’t stop there. To destroy some of the fun, they have isolated the compound primarily from Japanese knotweed and made it into a nutritional supplement – a pill or a liquid.

So if you believe in the good resveratrol story you can enjoy your red wine, eat your chocolate or skip all that and just take a pill. While taking resveratrol pills is certainly safer than heavy wine consumption, supplementing with unproven substances is generally unwise. At this point, occasional use of red wine seems far more prudent. However, there is no assurance that you will be any healthier. At the present time, research on resveratrol is in its infancy and the long-term effects of supplementation in humans are not known. But more information might be on its way. As I am writing this the 2nd International Scientific Conference on Resveratrol and Health has just finished. Help might be at hand soon.

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3 thoughts on “A good red wine – can it be good for you!

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