Red wine and/or exercise – your choice

Deteriorating brain function is the bane of getting old. The most severe and debilitating form of cognitive decline is the development of dementia, a collective term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness. The estimated proportion of the general population aged 60 and over with dementia at a given time is between 5-8%.

Dementia is not a single disease in itself, but a general term to describe symptoms of impairment in memory, communication, and thinking. Although it mostly affects older people, it is not necessarily a normal part of ageing as it can be influenced by lifestyle factors.

Boosting brain function

Sure, a regular glass of red wine has been shown to have the ability to improve cognitive function as we age. We covered this in detail in a previous blog. But so does regular exercise. Exercise has a broad range of beneficial healthful effects.

A new study published on 9 July 2020 tested the hypothesis that it might be possible to reverse brain ageing through systemic interventions such as exercise. The scientists from the University of California tested whether the beneficial effects of exercise on cognition in aged mice could be transferred in plasma from one mouse to another. Indeed, plasma from young or old mice that had exercised when transferred to other aged mice showed beneficial effects in their brains even if they had not exercised.

How is this possible?

To discover what specific biological factors in the blood might be behind these effects, the amounts of different soluble proteins in the blood of active versus sedentary mice were measured. After some intensive search, the scientists identified the enzyme glycosylphosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase D1 (Gpld1) as a factor in plasma that might mediate this favourable effect.

Gpld1 is produced by the liver. The team found that Gpld1 increases in the blood circulation of mice following exercise, and that Gpld1 levels correlate closely with improvements in the animals’ cognitive performance.

And not only in rats!

Analysis of previously collected human data showed that Gpld1 is also elevated in the blood of healthy, active elderly adults compared to less active elders.

To test whether Gpld1 itself could drive the observed benefits of exercise, the researchers used genetic engineering to coax the livers of aged mice to produce extra Gpld1, and measured various aspects of cognition and memory. They found that three weeks of the treatment produced similar beneficial cognitive effects as six weeks of regular exercise.

The scientists are now working to better understand precisely how Gpld1 interacts with other biochemical signalling systems to produce its brain-boosting effects (as it doesn’t pass the blood/brain barrier). The hope is to be able to identify specific targets for a future food supplement with Gpld1 that could one day confer many of the protective benefits of exercise for the frail.

So what’s your choice?

So now there is a choice, red wine or exercise or maybe both to retain good cognitive function.

But the question is how much exercise is needed to get the optimal benefit. Would the recommended 10,000 steps a day be sufficient and would a glass of red wine add to the benefit?

Or, horror, would the liver be too busy to metabolise the alcohol from the red wine to have time to also produce the Gpld1?

I want to know more!

Dark chocolate or red wine?

Of course I would like to believe the scientists who claim that eating dark chocolate positively affects our wellbeing and that drinking moderate amounts of red wine improve our health. I like both dark chocolate and red wine and sometimes together to get a double wellness whammy. What’s not to like?

Question is are the scientists actually right? We have written numerous posts about claimed superfoods doing wonders to our health when it is actually the overall diet that is most important, not the individual components as such. Sure we have also fallen into the trap of praising some individual foods as the popular press did this time for fashionable dark chocolate and red wine. Even scientists want to get some attention.

Dark chocolate and health

Let’s start with reviewing the dark chocolate findings. Scientists from the University College London, the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services Canada assessed data from 13,626 adults from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Daily chocolate consumption and type of chocolate was assessed against scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire, which assesses depressive symptoms.

As usual, a range of other factors including height, weight, marital status, ethnicity, education, household income, physical activity, smoking and chronic health problems were taken into account to ensure the study only measured chocolate’s effect on depressive symptoms. Overall, 11.1% of the population reported any chocolate consumption, with 1.4% reporting dark chocolate consumption.

The scientists found that eating dark chocolate positively affected mood and relieved depressive symptoms. As a matter of fact, individuals eating any amount of dark chocolate had 70% lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who reported not eating chocolate at all.

So far so good!

Woman smile

To be believable it is important to find a biological mechanism that can explain the results. And there are several. Chocolate contains a number of psychoactive ingredients which produce a feeling of euphoria and phenylethylamine which is believed to be important for regulating people’s moods. Also, dark chocolate in particular has a higher concentration of flavonoids, antioxidant polyphenols that have been shown to improve inflammation and play a role in the onset of depression.

Another strength of the study is that daily chocolate consumption was derived from two 24‐hour dietary recalls and not from much more dubious food frequency questionnaires that are so common.

And the bad!

Although the study included a large overall sample, there were less than 200 individuals that reported dark chocolate consumption. There could also be other confounding factors not taken into account.

There is some caution expressed by the scientists themselves claiming that further research is required to clarify causation. It could be the case that depression causes people to lose their interest in eating chocolate, or there could be other factors that make people both less likely to eat dark chocolate and to be depressed.

What about red wine and health?

Scientists at King’s College, London have reported that red wine consumption could be linked to better gut health. The study included a group of 916 female twins and tested the effects of consuming beer, cider, red wine, white wine and spirits on the gut microbiome, the micro-organisms found in the digestive tract.

And compared to other alcoholic drinks they found that the gut microbiome of red wine drinkers was more diverse – a sign of better gut health. The researchers speculated that the positive effect of red wine could be due to its higher amount of chemicals called polyphenols that act as antioxidants.

So what to say!

Well, this could be a big thing.

We know that our gut microbiota can affect multiple aspects of our general health and play a role in many illnesses. As a matter of fact, gut microbes are responsible for producing thousands of chemical metabolites affecting our overall metabolism, our immune system and our brain.

We have long known of the unexplained benefits of red wine on heart health. The study findings that moderate red wine consumption is associated with greater diversity and a healthier gut microbiome could at least partly explain its beneficial effects on heart health.

And there is more

As a check on possible genetic or family biases, the scientists found that the twin who drank red wine more often than the related twin had a more diverse gut flora. White wine drinkers who should be socially and culturally similar, had no significant differences in diversity.

Also, in further support of the findings they were shown to be consistent with results from two other studies of similar size in the US (the American Gut project) and Belgium (Flemish Gut Project) basing the conclusions on a total of about 3000 twins.

And in a previous experimental Spanish study from 2012, admittedly involving only ten healthy middle-aged males, the volunteers were given one of three different beverages to drink each day in each of three 20-day periods: normal strength red wine, low alcoholic red wine and gin. Drinking any type of red wine resulted in a larger percent of certain beneficial gut bacteria, but consuming gin had no effect on the gut flora.

So all good?

Not so fast.

Note that again the main study was observational and not experimental and the previous experimental study was very small. The study subjects in the observational study self-reported their food and drink intake with the usual associated bias. The scientists then prospectively tried to statistically link the reported alcoholic drink consumption with test results from the gut microbial analysis. Using twins strengthens the findings but doesn’t conclusively show causality.

There are the usual professional warning that the positives should still be weighed up against the negative impacts of alcohol. Any potential benefits of red wine polyphenols should be considered alongside alcohol’s links to over 200 health conditions, including heart disease and cancers.

But the beneficial effects were achieved by a very moderate glass of red wine a week or even a fortnight.

The moral of the story

If you’re going to eat chocolate pick the dark variety and you will not only have an enjoyable time but you might also be happier.

And the same goes for alcohol consumption. Drink in moderation and pick red wine and the resulting happiness might also be associated with improved health.

Also remember that the beneficial polyphenols found in dark chocolate and red wine can also be found in a range of other foods.

A glimmer of hope for red wine connoisseurs

1024x1024 mobile phone wallpapers download - www.wallpaper-mobile.comIt is not easy to be balanced when you have just seen some good news you want to believe of beneficial health effects. As on the other hand there are already plenty of incontroversial harmful health effects documented. What to do?

Let’s start with the negative side. And it is clear that you should take it easy on alcoholic drink consumption, as alcohol can be harmful to health. In the liver, enzymes convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Competing with its use to metabolise fat, a molecule called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is reduced to NADH during the conversion. Unfortunately, in people who drink daily, the body might not be able to detoxify acetaldehyde fast enough to counteract the negative effects. To make matters worse, heavy drinking can exhaust the levels of NAD, which can lead to accumulation of fat in the liver and often liver cirrhosis over time.

And that’s not all. The energy content of alcohol can lead to obesity in those who drink excessively. Being obese, in turn, carries a lot of health risks, including heart disease and diabetes.

So the alcohol itself in alcoholic beverages can clearly be damaging to health.

The other side

But just so you know there is not all doom and gloom.

We have written about beneficial compounds found in a range of alcoholic beverages before. There are a number of antioxidants like resveratrol in wine, ellagic acid in oak barrel aged whisky and xanthohumol in beer.

As antioxidants can help prevent the initiation of cancer they might at least partly counter the effects of acetaldehyde. Problem is that to ingest sufficient amounts of such compounds the alcohol you consume might negate the benefits.


But there is a further brighter side.

Alcohol consumed in moderation can actually be beneficial in itself. It has long been known that consumption of small amounts of alcohol may lower the risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.

old_coupleWhile a couple of glasses of wine can help you relax after a busy day, new research shows that it may actually help clean the mind as well. The new study shows that low levels of alcohol consumption reduce brain inflammation and helps the brain remove waste, including the proteins beta amyloid and tau that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Thus the new study showed for the first time that low doses of alcohol are potentially beneficial to brain health.

These finding adds to a growing body of research that point to the health benefits of low doses of alcohol. While excessive consumption of alcohol is a well-documented health hazard, many studies have linked lower levels of drinking equivalent to approximately two to three drinks per day with improved overall brain health and a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases as well as a number of cancers.

Adding to doom and gloom

As we enjoyed the good news linked to having a couple of glasses of red wine on a weekly basis further bad news on the impact of heavy alcohol consumption was published.

According to a nationwide observational study of over one million adults diagnosed with dementia in France, more than half of 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia before the age of 65 were related to chronic heavy drinking of more than 60g of pure alcohol on average per day for men and 40g  per day for women.

So what can we learn from science?

Say that a normal size bottle of red wine contains about 80-85g of pure alcohol and that is true for a typical alcohol content varying between 13.5% and 14.5%.

Therefore, enjoying a bit more than half a bottle of a good red wine a few times a week for men and a little less than half a bottle for women might be beneficial to both body and soul.

More and that balance might be damaged as there is a further guide indicating that the weekly consumption should not exceed 170g of pure alcohol for men and 110g for women.

So dare I say again that as usual the adage “everything in moderation” holds true.

Drink responsibly!

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!


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…


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 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.