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The Versatile Benefits of Red Wine and Component Resveratrol

By Daniel H. Rasolt

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009

Defeat Diabetes ® News--Moderate red wine consumption is known to have many benefits, including protection against heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions, and is believed to be the ultimate answer to the “French paradox.” Red wine is a complex chemical mix, with many of its constituents believed to benefit the human body in some form. Polyphenols, especially resveratrol, are believed to be a particularly important component of red wine when considering health benefits, and a recent review has displayed the far-reaching potential for these compounds.

Before praising wine as the natural miracle drug for many leading causes of mortality around the world, it’s important to mention that many deaths are caused either directly, or indirectly, by alcohol abuse. Many organs, especially the liver and pancreas, can be damaged beyond repair, and excessive alcohol consumption has also been shown to lead to significant brain cell loss, as well as slowed immune system response. Indirectly, intoxicated individuals can harm innocent bystanders, such as in the common tragedy of drunk-driver induced accidents and deaths.

With that out of the way, time to describe and tout the drink that will save humanity from ever-growing epidemic diseases, red wine! This is of course a bit excessive, but it’s rather incredible the wide-range of benefits that have been linked to constituents of red wine.

Red wine (“vin rouge” for the wine-obsessed French, “vino tinto” for the growing populations of Spanish speaking wine drinkers around the world, and “vino rosso” in the largest wine producing country in the world, Italy) is a combination of over 1,000 organic and inorganic compounds. Among these, polyphenols, flavonols (an antioxidant compound linked to numerous health benefits in other natural food sources, such as dark chocolate and dark red fruits),  and anthocyanins, are thought to be the most beneficial to human health, and all unique to red wine, as opposed to white wine and other alcoholic beverages. Ethanol (alcohol), is of course another constituent of red wine, and believed to have health benefits that extend to other alcoholic drinks as well, when consumed in moderation.  The polyphenol, resveratrol, is the primary subject of the current analysis, though the unique mix of these various compounds is likely to be the ultimate reason why red wine is so versatile in protecting the human body.

In order, Italy, France, The United States, Spain, Argentina and Chile, are the six largest wine producers in the world. Minus the United States, a large portion of the adult populations in these countries consume red wine regularly, and additionally are representations of the “French paradox,” with France of course being the best example. This “paradox,” which has been recognized for nearly 200 years, refers to the fact that the typical French diet is high in saturated fats, but incidence of heart disease is relatively low compared to other developed countries. It’s been speculated, and convincingly researched, that the tendency to consume red wine with many of these fatty meals, is the primary reason that the French, as well as other high fat, moderate (but regular) wine consumers, have low incidence of heart disease. Moderate wine consumption is usually defined as less than 300 milliliters per day.

Resveratrol and polyphenols in general, are based in the skins, stems and seeds of red grapes, and often develop in red wine through “maturation” in oak barrels. In fact, the presence of the skins, stems and seeds during the maturation of red wine, are the main reason why red wine contains the above mentioned compounds, while white wine does not. Highly “tannic” red wines (tannic, more or less, describes bitterness and astringency, and comes mostly from the grape skins, but also the seeds, and sometimes from aging in wooden casks), such as syrah/syrah (same grape, different name, depending on locality of production), cabernet sauvignon, and Bordeaux varietals (which are typically a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, with other grapes occasionally as well), are known to have the highest polyphenolic content.

A variety of past research has indicated that resveratol is an extremely beneficial polyphenolic compound, and found in high abundance in tannic red wines. “There is substantial evidence that resveratrol prevents or delays the onset of chronic diseases that increase in prevalence with age, such as diabetes, inflammation, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiovascular disease, induces neuroprotection, and inhibits proliferation of human cancer cell lines,” say the current study authors, an international team with doctors and nutritionists from the USA, Australia, Hungary, Germany and the UK. It was the goal of these researchers to summarize the various benefits of resveratrol that have been uncovered in recent years.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), a condition that has close ties to two epidemic conditions, diabetes and obesity, itself has many forms and conditions, many of which improve with red wine consumption. Hypertension, myocardial damage, atherosclerosis and inflammation, all forms of CVD and risks for cardiovascular mortality, have been shown to benefit from resveratrol based therapy.

Past research specifically concerning resveratrols effect on hypertension, or chronic high blood pressure, has been somewhat inconclusive, although oxidative damage to DNA might be lessened when exposed to resveratrol, athough systolic blood pressure has not been shown to be lowered due solely to resveratrol (though there has been evidence that red wine consumption, in general, has this effect). On a related note, the anti-oxidant properties of resveratrol have also been shown to help protect against myocardial injury, including “infarction,” or heart attack, due to diminished oxidative stress on the heart.

Resveratrol was also shown to enhance angiogenesis, or the sprouting of new blood vessels, which can help with blood circulation, and help prevent other forms of CVD. Protection of endothelial cells, whose dysfunction can lead to heart disease, and diminished cell inflammation, were also observed effects of past low-to-moderate resveratrol administration.

Anti-inflammatory properties, which are also primarily a result of resveratrol being an anti-oxidant, help protect not only against CVD, but diabetes and cancer, as well. Speaking of diabetes, the researchers say that “In rat models of diabetes, resveratrol reduced blood glucose and triglyceride concentrations following streptozotocin treatment and prevented the increase in blood pressure and cardiac hypertrophy while restoring the mesenteric and cardiac eNOS activity and decreasing oxidative stress in fructose-fed rats,” meaning that resveratrol helped control diabetes, as well as helped prevent the most common form of death in diabetics, heart disease. Additionally, “Resveratrol increased insulin sensitivity by lowering the blood glucose level in high calorie diet mice with reduced insulin-like growth factor,” which could have strong implications on obese pre-diabetics, and it also helped prevent neuropathy and limit neuropathic induced pain, in diabetics.

Resveratrols role in chemoprevention, or as an anti-cancer agent, is well documented as well. “Resveratrol inhibited or retarded the growth of a wide range of human cancer cells in culture as well as implanted tumors usually in mice,” explain the authors. The above mentioned anti-inflammatory properties of resveratrol have also been documented as a protective tool against apoptosis (cell death) caused by cancer or cancer treatment, though these results are still inconclusive.

The list goes on, many connected to the above mentioned diseases, CVD, diabetes and cancer. Resveratrol has been seen to help protect against various gastrointestinal diseases through limiting gastric inflammation, limit blood coagulation (in other words, increasing blood flow, decreasing CVD risk), and slowed progression, or total prevention, of neurodegenerative diseases. Neuropretection is also believed to be a result of decreased oxidative stress, a product of the anti-oxidant nature of resveratrol, suggesting moderate red wine consumption as a preventative treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, and even “traumatic brain injury.”

The above list of resveratrol benefits, in almost all instances, represents low-to-moderate administration of resveratrol, usually on animal models. In fact, high resveratrol doses occasionally were seen to have negative effects, such as with angiogenesis, which can lead to malignant tumors in some instances.

Resveratrol supplements have become widely available in recent years as well, some being derived from grape skins and seeds, but most based on Japanese knotweed. While resveratrol appears to be a major reason why red wine is so beneficial to health, it’s difficult at this point to conclusively say that resveratrol supplements will provide similar benefits to moderate red wine consumption. Red wine’s general benefits are well documented, while long-term effects of resveratrol supplementation on human beings, is not.

The well documented “paradoxical” healthiness of many red wine consumers, along with strong scientific evidence connecting specific components of red wine, such as resveratrol, with various health benefits, makes the sometimes controversial recommendation for moderate red wine consumption extremely compelling. The wide-reaching benefits of resveratrol alone include heart disease and diabetes prevention and control, cancer prevention and possible treatment, slowed or eliminated neurodegenerative progression, and many conditions connected to these often debilitating and fatal, disorders. And if all the potential benefits aren’t convincing enough, red wine can be as complex and enjoyable as the life it will help preserve.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Brown, Lindsay. Kroon, Paul. Das, Dipak. Feick, Peter, et al. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. “The Biological Responses to Resveratrol and Other Polyphenols From Alcoholic Beverages.” June 2009.

Daniel H. Rasolt writes for Defeat Diabetes ® News. Read more of his original content articles.

Copyright © 2009 Defeat Diabetes Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

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