I’d love to believe

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Red wine benefits?

I’d love to believe that the resveratrol in red wine possesses a range of health benefits including anti-cancer effects, anti-inflammatory effects, cardiovascular benefits, anti-diabetes potential and protection against Alzheimer’s. Thus good for all adult ages. A glass of wine a day might keep the doctor away.

But it might be wishful thinking. 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 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 probably that the amount of resveratrol in red wine is too small to have any measurable beneficial effects in humans.

But we can still believe!

whiskybottle

Whisky benefits?

I’d love to believe that the ellagic acid content of whisky actually can reduce oxidative stress. Ellagic acid has been shown to have antiproliferative and antioxidant properties in a number of in vitro and small-animal models. It may directly inhibit the DNA binding of certain carcinogens, and it has a chemoprotective effect in cellular models.

But again it might be too good to be true. Ellagic acid has been marketed as a dietary supplement with a range of claimed benefits against cancer, heart disease, and other medical problems. In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called it a fake cancer ‘cure’ consumers should avoid. So not much luck there.

But we can still believe!

It might actually be premature to give up red wine and whisky completely. As antioxidants, like resveratrol and ellagic acid, are additive any contribution is useful. Complement the spirits with plenty of berries, dark green vegetables and nuts and you will not go wrong. Red wine and whisky will be outdone on the health front, but so what.

But there is more…

chilipeppers

Red chilli pepper benefits?

I’d also very much love to believe the latest reports that consumption of hot red chilli peppers can reduce deaths due to heart disease or stroke. Going back for centuries, peppers and spices have been thought to be beneficial in the treatment of many diseases. A new study using National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III data collected from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years, found that hot red chilli pepper consumption decreased mortality by 13%.

But unfortunately the findings, widely published by the popular press, are based solely on epidemiological data. Exploring epidemiological data, even if prospective in nature, is fraught with obstacles. The authors themselves point out that given the observational nature of the investigation, causality can only be suggested, not confirmed.

However, on the bright side there is some support for the findings in a theory that capsaicin in chilli peppers can influence cellular and molecular mechanisms that prevent obesity and modulate coronary blood flow, and also possesses antimicrobial properties that may alter the gut microbiota.

In a sign of our desperate need to find some beneficial news the popular press was inundated by citations of the positive findings. Some examples:

  • “Can eating spicy food lead to a longer life? Chili peppers could be the secret” says National Post.
  • “Spicy food could be the secret to a healthy heart and a longer life, says new study” says The Telegraph.
  • “This Is Your Body On Spicy Foods” says The Huffington Post.
  • “Eat Peppers, Live Longer?” says New York Times.
  • “Red hot chilli peppers: the way to a longer life?” says The Sydney Morning Herald.

If you’re on to a good thing the press will pick it up. Doesn’t mean it’s true though. But we can still believe!

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.