Wine lovers: Here’s another reason to rejoice! It turns out that having a little merlot or pinot noir once in a while may do your tummy good. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Let me explain…
It’s widely known that red wine has properties that protect your heart. This is courtesy of compounds called antioxidants, which aid in preventing coronary artery disease, a condition that often leads to heart attacks.
But it turns out these antioxidants may do more than help your heart. According to a recent study, drinking red wine may improve gut health as well. It does so by boosting the diversity of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in your microbiome—the vast ecosystem of miniscule organisms that inhabit the human body.
To appreciate why this development is so important, it’s helpful to understand a little about the microbiome.
Human beings and microbes (bacteria, viruses, archaea, and fungi) have a complex, synergistic relationship. Most of these organisms are completely harmless, some are illness- or disease-causing, and others are actually beneficial and health-promoting. We need a good balance of all types of microbes to stay alive and healthy, and these microbes need the different environments provided by the human body in order to survive. It is a mind-boggling, yet fascinating connection that scientists continue to study and try to comprehend.
But even with all the unknowns, one thing is exceedingly clear: The microbiome is extremely important to human health. Just like it can’t survive without a liver, heart, or kidneys, your body can’t function properly without a healthy microbiome.
While there are trillions of microbes that live in and on the body, nowhere are they more concentrated than in the gut. Having a diverse and balanced gut microbiome is important for so many reasons, not the least of which is strong immunity and the prevention of countless diseases including allergies, asthma, obesity, and depression.
About the Study
Researchers in London examined the gut health of red wine drinkers vs. drinkers of other types of alcohol. Specifically, they compared the effects of beer, red and white wine, cider, and other liquors on 916 female twins.
After adjusting for variables such as age, diet, weight, and socioeconomics, the researchers found a link between red wine and variety of gut bacteria. Greater bacterial diversity is a marker of not only gut health, but overall health. They also discovered that those who drank red wine had lower rates of obesity and cholesterol than those who didn’t.
Even better, it didn’t take much red wine to see these benefits. As little as one glass every one or two weeks is all that’s needed—though the more that’s consumed, the higher the diversity of bacteria. This doesn’t mean you should be downing a bottle of wine a day, as overconsumption of alcohol leads to a whole other set of problems. Remember, everything in moderation—especially when it comes to alcohol. But a glass every so often, as research continues to show, confers multiple health benefits.
Not surprisingly, it’s not the alcohol that’s to thank for these health benefits. Rather, it’s the polyphenols.
Polyphenols are a family of 4,000+ antioxidant compounds found in fruits and vegetables, including the red grapes used to make wine. These plants produce polyphenols as a way to protect themselves from environmental and other stressors. When we eat fruits and vegetables that come from these polyphenol-rich plants, the compounds protect us in similar ways.
When it comes to this latest study, researchers determined that polyphenols help the microbiome by feeding good bacteria and helping them multiply. But polyphenols have other protective qualities as well. They also fight off cell damage and inflammation, which are the hallmarks of some of our most serious and life-threatening diseases. When it comes to heart disease, polyphenols improve cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce blood clotting. Polyphenols fight diabetes by decreasing blood glucose levels; aid in weight loss by increasing metabolic rate; and block inflammatory processes that lead to conditions such as arthritis and cancer.
If you’re not a red wine drinker, some of the other sources of polyphenols are apples, blue and red berries, cherries, pears, plums, pomegranates, broccoli, cabbage, celery, and onions. Tea (particularly green tea), coffee, and chocolate (cocoa) are good sources, too. Keep in mind, produce with darker skin has higher polyphenols levels. This is why red wine (made with red grapes) is a much better source than white (made with lighter colored green grapes).
For added protection, you can always take a polyphenol supplement. Resveratrol and green tea extract are both excellent choices. But by and large, the majority of your antioxidants should come from a colorful rainbow of nutritious whole foods—and, if you so wish, an occasional glass of red wine.
- Le Roy CI, et al. Red Wine Consumption Associated With Increased Gut Microbiota α-diversity in 3 Independent Cohorts. 2019 Aug 23. pii: S0016-5085(19)41244-4. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.08.024. [Epub ahead of print]