We have all heard about the health benefits of red wine, but sometimes it is hard to separate fact from fiction, particularly when some things reported on the internet are not necessarily founded on absolute truth.
Here are some facts:
Red wine is a better choice
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Resveratrol is a natural phenol that forms part of the immune system of grapes and other plants and protects against fungal infections. Grapes grown in humid environments contain more resveratrol than those grown in arid environments, as the moisture in their humid environment makes them more susceptible to fungus and they produce more resveratrol to fight it off.
You find large quantities of it in grape skins and in wine, particularly in red wine because the grape skins are removed in the white wine making process. Red wine has longer contact with the skin so more resveratrol and other useful phytonutrients such as tannins are extracted.
Wine and heart health
The resveratrol is what gives wine it’s cardioprotective effects when drunk in moderation. The “French Paradox” is named as such because epidemiological observations of the French demonstrated that mortality from heart disease is about a quarter of that of Britain despite similar consumption of saturated animal fat and similar levels of smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
This has in the past been attributed to the cardioprotective effects of red wine but this is most probably a myth! Up until the 1970s, the French population had lower animal fat consumption and lower levels of serum cholesterol than the British, only in the last thirty years have these levels increased. There is no data yet to show the effects of this increased fat consumption and its effect on heart disease – we will see those effects in about thirty years.
Health effects of wine
The resveratrol in wine can increase life expectancy – resveratrol and calorie restriction activate a compound named SIRT1 that counteracts ageing. Studies have demonstrated that sirtuin activation is responsible for increased production of mitochondria which translates as more energy, improved vitality and a reduction in free radicals, which cause oxidative stress. Procyanidins, tannins present in red wine also help to promote cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that wine produced in the wine-producing areas where people live longer has high concentrations of tannins. Sirtuins also improve insulin sensitivity, which protects against type 2 diabetes.
The resveratrol in wine reduces oxidative stress and inflammation: it dampens our body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation is the root cause of a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome. However, the sugar in wine presents a lot of empty calories which promote obesity and fluctuation of blood sugar levels, both contributing factors themselves to the same chronic diseases.
Red wine is a great source of resveratrol
I would be inclined to disagree with this. Studies have suggested the health benefits of resveratrol come with a dosage of a minimum of 40mg per day. Red wine contains around 10mg per litre. If you were to get this dosage by drinking red wine, you would have to drink many litres of wine! Most supplements are produced from Japanese knotweed plant Polygonum cuspidatum, a very invasive weed which happens to contain the highest concentrations of resveratrol. Other sources of resveratrol include mulberries, cacao and peanuts, particularly when sprouted as research has shown that this can increase resveratrol levels.
Red wine has been touted for a number of other health effects, such as protection against cancer, promoting memory function and treating acne due to the action of resveratrol but again, how much wine would you need to drink?
The benefits of including a supplement containing resveratrol in your daily regime are obvious, but it’s perhaps better not to depend on red wine for this. Most cultures where cardiovascular risk is lower and life expectancy is greater do not generally lead sedentary and stressful lifestyles; they follow a diet containing whole grains, legumes, moderate consumption of saturated fats and minimal processed foods and refined sugars. So the best thing to do is look at the bigger picture and take a lead from them.