Resveratrol: Sure Wine Not?!
The majority of the celebrated health benefits of wine are derived from its high levels of the ‘anti-ageing’ antioxidant resveratrol which is found in grape skin and seeds. Red wine boasts naturally higher levels since it basks with grape skins for longer while fermenting.
I was blissfully replenishing my resveratrol supplies over the weekend while hen partying. It’s fair to say there was a fair amount of wine imbibed from start to finish. But we won’t be the last to indulge in the grape escape and we certainly weren’t the first.
Jars storing red wine from 8,000 years ago found in Georgia – as in Georgia between Europe and Asia – provide the earliest archeological evidence of wine production. 3,000 year old Egyptian hieroglyphs catalogue no less than six varieties of wine, each rated according to its calibre. The ancient Egyptians considered red wine to be their ancestral blood. While ok to drink in small amounts, overstepping the mark was believed to incur the wrath of said predecessors and had the potential to result in delirium and ultimately death – how prescient!
Since times ancient, the sugar in dead plants and animals has undergone fermentation, resulting in the production of ethanol – the active ingredient in booze. And since plants and animals, including our good selves, feed upon each other, an enzyme which goes by the name of alcohol dehydrogenase evolved to metabolise the stuff. So we’ve evolved to booze a little and we’re still alive and kicking for the most part! The Sardinian population, for example, boasts disproportionate numbers of centennials, i.e. people whose dolce vita extends beyond the 100 year mark. They drink a glass or two of micronutrient-laden Cannonau wine every day.
Anyway I’m off on a major tangent as per usual… Today, I’m going to briefly discuss the health benefits associated with resveratrol consumption. DISCLAIMER: I’m not condoning excessive drinking and we’re all well aware of its short- and long-term dangers. I’d like to offer a little reminder at the outset to those trying to finagle their way onto Santa’s good list – the current HSE (Irish) “low risk” guidelines are as follows:
17 standard drinks of pure alcohol for men and 11 for women, over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol free days. See below:
So with that out of the way, let’s have a look at resveratrol. This naturally occurring, plant-derived powerhouse boasts major antioxidant skills which enable it to neutralise all manner of free radicals that sneakily whizz around our bodies every moment of the day, waiting to pounce on healthy cells and damage them, in order to stabilise themselves structurally. Free radicals are held responsible for all manner of ills, including dementia, diabetes and heart disease and anything that buffers them (such as antioxidants like resveratrol) exerts a natural anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
A study conducted in Harvard concluded that mice placed on extremely calorific diets but including high concentrations of resveratrol gained less weight and enjoyed fewer insulin-related and heart issues as well as a longer life. (Studies are underway to determine if a resveratrol-containing medication could take a place among the plethora of medications available for diabetes.)
Another study undertaken at Johns Hopkins University concluded that resveratrol affords protection to the brain during the process that plays out during a stroke.
Yet another study (this one conducted at Cornell University) shows that resveratrol has the effect of reducing plaque formation in ageing animal brains and holds promise as a treatment for Alzheimer’s dementia.
As you can see, studies from reputable institutions on the health benefits of red wine and resveratrol abound, but as always, caution must be exercised in their interpretation. Moderation is key, as with most things. The reality is that moderate consumers of wine tend to belong to a socio-economic group that enjoys better healthcare, nutrition and an overall healthier lifestyle, and it is the summation of the above that impacts longevity rather than moderate wine consumption in isolation.
And apart from the physical effects of moderate red wine consumption, there are clear psychological effects – nothing like a nice glass of your favourite red wine to unwind after a stressful day.
Have a great week which will hopefully include a nice glass of resveratrol-rich red… Hard to believe Friday heralds the start of the silly season!