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Wine And Your Health


Pop the Champagne for Heart Health

Study finds link between sparkling wine and improved circulation
Jacob Gaffney
Posted: December 9, 2009

Champagne producers have always touted that it’s a wine worthy of daily consumption, not just for celebrations. And a study published in the Nov. 30 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition backs that up. The study, conducted by researchers at the school of chemistry, food and pharmacy at the University of Reading, with assistance from two biochemical and molecular biology centers in Reims, France, found that subjects who drank moderate amounts of Champagne daily appeared to show improved arterial function.

"This study into the effects of Champagne on the health of the circulatory system and the heart suggests that Champagne acts in a way more akin to red wine than to white wine and that these effects are due to polyphenols derived from both the red and white grape used in its production," said Jeremy P.E. Spencer, a researcher at the University who also coauthored earlier research that found Champagne protects brain cells from injury.

In the text, the authors point out that past studies have suggested a correlation between red wine consumption and lower incidence of cardiovascular disease but that Champagne has not been fully investigated for cardio-protective potential. To do just that, the researchers set up a randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover intervention trial, where subjects would drink moderate amounts of Champagne daily. They theorize that because Champagne is made from both white and red grapes, it may offer red wine’s cardiovascular benefits.

The volunteers, ages 20 to 65, were recruited from around Reading and cleared vigorous medical tests to ensure they were free of any chronic illnesses. Leading up to the study, the scientists suspected that certain plant-based chemicals in the subjects’ diets may impact the results and asked participants to forgo polyphenol-rich products such as cocoa, coffee, tea and wine for two days prior to the experiment.

On the first day of the research, subjects drank 375 milliliters of Champagne. In the control group, the subjects drank a carbonated fruit-based beverage mixed in the lab with a similar 12 percent alcohol and an equivalent amount of ethanol, sugars, vitamins, minerals and acids. The only major difference in composition, Spencer explained, is that the control beverage did not contain polyphenols.

Regardless of what they were drinking, the volunteers were given 10 minutes to get it all down. Blood samples were then collected at regular intervals for eight hours, and urine was taken every eight hours for the following day.

In the blood samples, the researchers noted that levels of nitric oxide, a molecule that controls blood pressure, were elevated in the Champagne drinkers. Optimal nitric oxide levels should decrease the risk of blood clots forming and, therefore, the study concludes, this should equally decrease the likelihood of heart disease and strokes. Furthermore, metabolites of Champagne polyphenols were detected in the urine samples, indicating a decent rate of absorption into the blood.

The levels of nitric oxide in the blood and polyphenol metabolites in the urine were higher in the Champagne group when compared to the control groups. "Our research has shown that drinking around two glasses of Champagne can have beneficial effects on the way blood vessels function, in a similar way to that observed with red wine," said Spencer, in a statement. He stressed, however, that, "We always encourage a responsible approach to alcohol consumption."



Red Wine Helps the Heart, But How?

Polyphenols like resveratrol and quercetin may work together to promote cardiovascular health
Jacob Gaffney
Posted: November 4, 2009

It’s one of the key debates in the study of wine and health: Years of evidence suggests that wine, consumed in moderation, improves heart and circulatory health. But is it the alcohol, or is there something particular to wine?

A recent wave of studies focusing on antioxidative compounds found in red wine—polyphenols like resveratrol, quercetin and various anthocyanidins—suggest that families of these compounds play a crucial role. On the other hand, a surprising new study from South Korea argues that the consumption of alcohol actually leads to the buildup of plaque in arteries, triggering coronary artery disease and raising the risk of heart attacks.

A study by Dipak Das of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Alberto Bertelli of the University of Milan, set to be published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, provides an overview of the current thinking on the subject by analyzing the results of various epidemiological and experimental studies that find that moderate drinking of red wine improves cardiovascular health.

Das and Bertelli began the study because, as they write in the report, "the experimental basis for such health benefits is not fully understood." Das has authored several studies examining the chemical composition of grapes. In this analysis, he finds that resveratrol, found in grape skins, as well as anthocyanidins, found in the seeds, are the primary reason behind circulatory benefits. This would explain evidence that red wine offers greater heart health benefits than white since red wine is in contact with seeds and skins during fermentation.

But the research industry is facing hurdles when it comes to developing red-wine compounds into a pharmaceutical product. Current research indicates that synthetic resveratrol must be ingested at very high doses before it shows an effect. How high? Equivalent to drinking tens to hundreds of bottles of wine per day. And yet moderate red wine consumption appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and even Alzheimer’s disease, according to the study. So, how does resveratrol work in red wine, but at such low doses?

After examining the results of 70 studies, Das and Bertelli theorize that, while in lab tests resveratrol has low bioavailabilty (meaning the body can only absorb a small percentage of the chemical when it’s ingested), other red-wine compounds with higher molecular weights, namely quercetin, can "modulate the activity" of resveratrol, helping the body absorb the compound and store it for later use, namely in the liver and kidneys, thereby offering "significant cardiac bioavailabilty."

Under this theory, a synthetic resveratrol pill is unlikely to be effective at low doses. On the other hand, 450ml of Australian Pinot Noir, or three servings, is "more than sufficient to achieve plasma levels of resveratrol with the [concentrated] range of 100 nanomoles to one micromoles," an effective dose.

While previous studies suggest red wine is good for the circulatory system, a study from South Korea adds a note of caution concerning the alcohol in the beverage. The study, to be published in the journal BMC Public Health, looked at the drinking habits of 4,302 Koreans, ages 50 and older, searching for a relationship between daily alcohol consumption and the risks of arterial inflammation or plaque buildup on artery walls.

By comparing the results of ultrasonographs of the participants’ carotid arteries to their drinking habits, they found that alcohol consumption seems to have little overall effect on both arterial tightness and clotting for women.

Men were a different story. Compared to nondrinkers, men who drank more than three alcoholic drinks daily showed 97 percent higher prevalence of plaque buildup in the carotid artery. Those who drank less had similar amount of plaque as nondrinkers. The scientists admit that the exact relationship between arterial health and alcohol remains unclear, but they speculate that once fat begins to collect on artery walls, heavy drinking exacerbates the situation.


Recent Research Bolsters Red-Wine Compound’s Health Potential

New studies on resveratrol are largely positive; questions remain
Jacob Gaffney
Posted: July 6, 2009

It’s the red-wine compound that can’t seem to do anything wrong. Resveratrol, found in the skins of grapes and in red wine, is the focus of several newly published studies. All three find the polyphenol has positive health effects, but also raise critical questions about why it’s helpful and how the body absorbs it.

A review of past studies on red-wine polyphenols, to be published in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, found that resveratrol stands tallest in providing potential health benefits. Red wine is a complex solution which contains a mixture of compounds such as flavonols, organic acids and pigment-producing anthocyanins. While all of these ingredients appear to produce health benefits when consumed responsibly, resveratrol is the most consistently linked to myriad benefits to one’s overall health.

Another study, scheduled for publication in Cellular and Molecular Biology, finds that resveratrol may fight off the brain damaging effects of Parkinson’s disease. A third review, available in the May issue of Heart and Circulatory Physiology, suggests that resveratrol optimizes the performance of individual cells in the body. All three studies share a common thread—resveratrol affects the body on a cellular level. While numerous studies have found that red wine can be beneficial, by improving circulation for example, this research is getting closer to understanding how wine does so on a cellular level.

In the first study, researchers at the University of Queensland analyzed recent research that focused primarily on resveratrol. They found the weight of evidence supported two main theories: Resveratrol tends to kill cancer cells and protects heart cells, and resveratrol aids in protection from brain ailments. The scientists looked at chemical compounds analyzed in research papers and found that some, such as curcumin, which is found in the curry ingredient turmeric, showed potential for health benefits, but that in recent years the number of studies on resveratrol have skyrocketed, from less than 500 in 2000 to more than 3,000 studies in 2009. The researchers combed the studies for commonalities in the data.

Lindsay Brown, an associate professor at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Queensland and corresponding author, said in a statement that, "It sounds contradictory that a single compound can benefit the heart by preventing damage to cells, yet prevent cancer by causing cell death." The most likely explanation, according to Brown, is that low concentrations activate survival mechanisms of cells while high concentrations turn on the built-in death signals in these cells.

In the same release, Brown’s colleague Stephen Taylor, a professor of pharmacology at the university, highlights a growing flaw in the current research extolling the abilities of resveratrol. "Resveratrol is largely inactivated by the gut or liver before it reaches the blood stream, where it exerts its effects, whatever they may be—good, bad or indifferent," he said. "Thus, most of the resveratrol in imbibed red wine does not reach the circulation."

But Taylor does not rule out that resveratrol may still be effectively absorbed in some other way that remains as yet unknown, say via the mucous membranes in the mouth. In which case, sipping slowly and allowing red wine to linger before swallowing may account for red-wine drinkers being generally healthier in epidemiological studies.

In an editorial in Heart and Circulatory Physiology titled, "A Glass of Red Wine to Improve Mitochondrial Biogenesis? Novel Mechanisms of Resveratrol," Gábor Szabó, a professor of cardiac surgery at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, echoes the Queensland study on many levels.

Szabó argued that all of the research on resveratrol points to a compound that works in a way new to science. Since the red-wine compound does so much, it cannot work only as an antioxidant, reducing oxidative damage to cells, he said. The likely explanation is that the polyphenol improves the performance of mitochondria, organelles that function as powerhouses inside cells. If this is true, the potential for resveratrol is seemingly limitless.

"The data about mitochondrial function as a missing puzzle [piece] complete the complex picture of the ‘all-in-one’ nature of this substance," wrote Szabó. "As intact mitochondrial function is a prerequisite of cellular integrity in any tissue, any drug which improves mitochondrial function may have large potential in the treatment of a wide variety of diseases."

The third body of research from Cellular and Molecular Biology takes a different approach. Researchers put resveratrol under the microscope, along with another red-wine polyphenol called quercetin.

The study by the department of biochemistry and neuroscience at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières found that both compounds helped prevent a Parkinson’s disease-related neurotoxin from killing brain cells. But because the results were in the lab, the question remains whether resveratrol and quercetin in red wine can be metabolized by the body and used by the brain.

The study ultimately calls for more research, but notes the "powerful role of these dietary compounds," which seem to be becoming, "more and more important as alternative or complementary therapies," for humans with chronic illnesses.

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