Wine Health Benefits

Wine is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages on the planet. Its history spans thousands of years and while heavy drinking of any alcoholic beverage rather brings lots of health-related troubles instead of benefits, current research suggests that a glass of red wine each day may be providing you with more than just a little relaxation.1

Red Wine Vs. Cancer

Red wine is a rich source of biologically active phytochemicals, chemicals found in plants. Particular compounds called polyphenols found in red wine-such as catechins and resveratrol-are thought to have anti oxidant or anti cancer properties.

1. What are polyphenols and how do they prevent cancer?

Polyphenols are antioxidant compounds found in the skin and seeds of grapes. When wine is made from these grapes, the alcohol produced by the fermentation process dissolves the polyphenols contained in the skin and seeds. Red wine contains more polyphenols than white wine because the making of white wine requires the removal of the skins after the grapes are crushed. The phenols in red wine include catechin, gallic acid and epicatechin.

Polyphenols have been found to have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from oxidative damage caused by molecules called free radicals. These chemicals can damage important parts of cells, including proteins, membranes and DNA. Cellular damage caused by free radicals has been implicated in the development of cancer. Research on the antioxidants found in red wine has shown that they may help inhibit the development of certain cancers.

2. What is resveratrol and how does it prevent cancer?

Resveratrol is a type of polyphenol called a phytoalexin, a class of compounds produced as part of a plant’s defense system against disease. It is produced in the plant in response to an invading fungus, stress, injury, infection or ultraviolet irradiation. Red wine contains high levels of resveratrol, as do grapes, raspberries, peanuts and other plants.

Resveratrol has been shown to reduce tumor incidence in animals by affecting one or more stages of cancer development. It has been shown to inhibit growth of many types of cancer cells in culture. Evidence also exists that it can reduce inflammation. It also reduces activation of NF kappa B, a protein produced by the body’s immune system when it is under attack. This protein affects cancer cell growth and metastasis. Resveratrol is also an antioxidant.

3. What have red wine studies found?

The cell and animal studies of red wine have examined effects in several cancers including leukemia, skin, breast and prostate cancers. Scientists are studying resveratrol to learn more about its cancer preventive activities. Recent evidence from animal studies suggests this anti-inflammatory compound may be an effective chemopreventive agent in three stages of the cancer process: initiation, promotion and progression.

Research studies published in the International Journal of Cancer show that drinking a glass of red wine a day may cut a man’s risk of prostate cancer in half and that the protective effect appears to be strongest against the most aggressive forms of the disease. It was also seen that men who consumed four or more 4-ounce glasses of red wine per week have a 60 percent lower incidence of the more aggressive types of prostate cancer.

However, studies of the association between red wine consumption and cancer in humans are in their initial stages. Although consumption of large amounts of alcoholic beverages may increase the risk of some cancers, there is growing evidence that the health benefits of red wine are related to its nonalcoholic components.

Atherosclerosis

Red wine may prevent the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis (hardening or “furring” of the arteries). Atherosclerosis starts when blood vessels begin to lose their ability to relax. Both the alcohol and polyphenols in the red wine appear to favorably maintain healthy blood vessels by promoting the formation of nitric oxide (NO), the key chemical relaxing factor that plays an important role in the regulation of vascular tone.

Blood clots

Red wine produces anticlotting, or antithrombotic, action. Light to moderate consumers of wine have lower levels of protein fibrinogen which promotes blood clot formation.

Drink in the Flavonoids

Belief in the medicinal value of wine is as old as wine itself. The Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America, sixth decennial revision, published in 1882, has listings for 14 different preparations of wine, from vinum album, or white wine, made “from the unmodified juice of the grape, freed from seeds, stems, and skins,” to vinum rubrum, or red wine, made “by fermenting the juice of colored grapes in presence of their skins.”

The deep, beautiful purple-red color of red wine is produced by a substance called anthocyanin, which is found in the skin of the grape. In addition to the color of red wine, we can thank anthocyanins for the deep red-purple-black color of black olives; and the berry-red color of strawberries, cherries, and raspberries.

Anthocyanin is one of the four main groups of chemicals that together are called flavonoids. Found in many plants and especially in deeply colored fruits and vegetables, flavonoids are important chemicals in plants.

Drink in the Flavonoids

Research has shown many potential medical uses for flavonoids. For example, they regulate cell growth, function as antioxidants, reduce inflammation, and prevent blood clots.

Red wine may also reduce oxidative stress caused by increased blood glucose levels after meals, according to Antonio Ceriello, MD, and associates. In a research letter published in the December 1999 issue of Diabetes Care, Dr. Ceriello and associates presented data showing that consumption of two 5-ounce glasses of red wine with a meal by subjects with type 2 diabetes significantly reduced the compounds produced by the test meal that could cause vascular damage by the mechanism of “oxidative stress.” (Oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol causes fatty buildup in the arteries.)

Heart disease

One of the well-known and most studied benefits of red wine is its heart protective effect. Moderate consumption of red wine on a regular basis may be a preventative against coronary heart disease. Scientists believe the red wine reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by reducing production of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and boosting high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Hypertension

Excessive alcohol consumption is generally considered a risk factor for hypertension. However, there is some evidence of favorable effects of red wine on blood pressure. Two glasses of red wine (250 ml), taken together with the meal, lower post-meal blood pressure in hypertensive persons.

1Written by C. Simmons of HealthAssist.net