Red Wine, the Heart Helper
The medical community is locked in a debate as to whether or not red wine is actually good for you. Some contend that the libation offers balm for the heart; others tout studies showing that wine is carcinogenic or harmful in various ways. Now, a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Ulm, Germany, scored one for those in the pro-wine camp. The study investigated how the compound reservatrol, which is found in the skin of red grapes and in red wine, actually works in human fat cells.
A few months back, I wrote about scientists who theorized that resveratrol has a role in weight control associated with moderate consumption of red wine, even though the resveratrol levels in red wine are not actually that high. Nevertheless, the study showed that women who drank a moderate amount of red wine gained less weight than those who did not drink at all. The scientists thought it likely that resveratrol inhibited the development of new fat cells and hindered the storage of fat already present in cells. They also credited resveratrol with the beneficial cardiac effects of drinking red wine.
The new Ulm study found parallel effects. In a controlled environment, resveratrol inhibited the development of immature human fat cells and affected how those cells functioned. Although similar results have previously been observed in animal cells, this was the first such study to be conducted on human cells. The scientists also found that resveratrol stimulated the absorption of glucose into cells and prevented the conversion of molecules into fat. Plus, they found that resveratrol activates sirtuin 1, a protein that protects against heart inflammation. All told, the study indicates that resveratrol affects metabolism in a way that interferes with obesity and other metabolic processes that could lead to cardiac disease.
A second study, conducted at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, showed that the health of blood vessel cells was improved by moderate consumption of red wine. The researchers followed 18 healthy adults who happily agreed to consume two portions (8.5 ounces) of red wine daily for three weeks in a row. When the researchers compared blood samples taken before and after the study, they found that "daily red wine consumption for 21 consecutive days significantly enhanced vascular endothelial function." In other words, drinking red wine improved the health of the small layer of endothelial cells that lines the blood vessels, which led to improved blood flow and heart health. It also decreased cell death. According to the authors, "Moderate consumption of red wine provides cardiovascular protection, but the mechanisms that underlie this protection are unclear."
Even so, the Ulm researchers couldn't help but think about possible pharmaceutical indications. Said the study authors, "Our findings open up the new perspective that resveratrol-induced intracellular pathways could be a target for prevention or treatment of obesity-associated endocrine and metabolic adverse effects. Resveratrol may act on different levels of cell signaling." In other words, they're looking for ways to use resveratrol to prevent or treat obesity. Let's hope that doesn't mean that you'll need a prescription for Cabernet in the future.
But you can get resveratrol from sources other than wine, should you prefer not to get "happy" or to hazard the other potential risks associated with alcohol. You can, for instance, take resveratrol supplements. Studies show that the bioavailability of resveratrol in supplement form at least equals that of red wine, and at much higher levels. Or you can go directly to the source and either eat a bunch of red grapes or drink grape juice (preferably juiced yourself, from organic grapes). In fact, a Cornell University study found more resveratrol in grape juice than in 60% of the wines studied. Other foods such as cacao, peanuts, and various berries also contain resveratrol, but in lesser amounts.
Should you decide that you do prefer to go the way of Bacchus, you should know that not all wines are equal in terms of resveratrol content. It turns out that Pinot Noir has a far higher resveratrol content than other red wines. Maybe Miles in the movie, Sideways, was onto something. Another Cornell University study, this one analyzing hundreds of wines from around the globe, found that a Pinot Noir from New York State, not France, scored highest in resveratrol content.