The secret power of red wine

For years, scientists have puzzled over the French Paradox – how could a culture with such a high fatty diet have low rates of heart disease? Some studies suggest the French eat nearly three times as  much high-fat foods as North Americans and four times as much cholesterol-laced foods and yet have healthier cardiovascular systems.

Scientists finally tracked down their secret tracing it to regular consumption of red wine which not only increases the amount of LDL (good cholesterol) in the blood stream but hinders the formation of blood clots and prevents clogging of arteries.

One Danish study concluded people who regularly drank red wine have half the instances of heart disease of those who don’t.

So what gives red wine these incredible health powers?

Scientists have uncovered one of grapes’ secret ingredients – Resveratrol. Resveratrol helps the grape fend off attacks from bacteria and fungi, but new research shows it may hold potential health benefits when consumed.

According to an article on the Mayo Clinic website, grapes are a tremendous sources of antioxidants known as polyphenols – Resveratrol, querceting and cathechin – which neutralize destructive Free Radicals which are now being linked to such serious health problems as heart disease and cancer.

The bulk of these antioxidants are found in the grape skins and seeds.

So why is red wine credited as the health producer and not its cousin white wine?  Red wine is created when grape skins are kept in the fermenting process to give the wine its color which may provide antioxidants greater opportunity to seep into the wine.

Resveratrol power

But it’s the antioxidant Resveratrol that seems to have caught everyone’s attention . A University of Wisconsin study conducted on mice revealed this antioxidant protected the mice from adverse affects associated with obesity and diabetes.

Researchers determined obese mice fed high calorie diets and Resveratrol had similar cardiovascular systems of younger trim mice. It was the equivalent of eating a low fat diet.

They also suggested Resveratrol may slow the effects of aging. They noted the aging process is affected by changes in the expression (function) of our body’s genes. They found  mice fed Resveratrol had fewer changes in the gene “expression” contributing to better health.

Researchers added that mice were fed high amounts of Resveratrol and humans would need to drink gallons of wine to get the same benefit. Unfortunately, drinking large quantities of wine brings a myriad of health risks.

NIA and NIH study

A similar study first reported in 2006 conducted  by the National Institute of Aging (NIA) and National Institute of Health (NIH) in conjunction with the Harvard Medical School arrived at a similar conclusion.

The results of their study published in the July 3, 2008 Cell Metabolism showed Resveratrol helped reduce disease commonly associated with obesity. Again the studies were conducted on mice. Three different test groups were used:

  1. One group was fed a standard diet.
  2. .A second group was fed a high calorie diet which made them obese.
  3. A third group was fed every second day (a  reduced calorie diet).

Within each test group, some mice were fed high doses of Resveratrol, some low doses and some non at all. For humans to consume the same amount of Resveratrol as the high dosage, depending on their weight they would need to drink nearly 1,500 bottles of red wine daily.

Effects on heart health

Perhaps Resveratrol’s most pronounced benefit  was on the health of obese mice fed the high calorie diet. The ones fed Resveratrol had much healthier cardiovascular systems. Though the grape extract did not prevent the mice from putting on weight, it reduced the health problems commonly associated with obesity.

Effect on life span

But just as striking was the effect Resveratrol had on the life spans of mice particularly those in the obese category. In his article Yes, Red Wine Holds Answer. Check Dosage published in the New York Times, author Nicholas Wade said the obese mice fed Resveratrol lived months longer than their counterparts not fed the antioxidant.

Resveratrol also extended the lives of the mice fed the regular diet.

The obese mice not fed Resveratrol had the shortest life spans, while the mice that lived the longest were the ones fed every second day (a calorie restricted diet). In this group, Resveratrol had no pronounced impact either way indicating it did not extend life, but reduced effects of high calorie diets if present.

Other health benefits

As they analyzed the health of mice fed Resveratrol, Harvard researchers discovered other benefits. One test indicated older mice had better motor skills. Middle aged mice 21 to 24 months were required to walk along a rotating bar. The ones fed Resveratrol maintained their balance longer.

Other benefits included:

1. Lower cholesterol which was “significantly reduced” in 22-month-old non-obese mice after consuming Resveratrol for 10 months;2. Healthier Aortas that functioned better in both obese and non-obese mice;3. Reduced heart inflammation;