Friday, June 11, 2010

Is Wine a “Functional Food”?

In taking a closer look at wine and health, one might ask if wine should be considered a “functional food.” If you’re not familiar with the term, a functional food is any natural or preserved food that in some way promotes wellness and/or helps prevent disease. Functional foods typically deliver health benefits in addition to nutritive value through active ingredients such as phytochemicals─plant compounds─that offer disease-protective and/or therapeutic benefits.

Many scientific studies have indicated that moderate wine consumption helps protect against cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, lung disease, many forms of cancer, neurological diseases, and cognitive decline, among others. That’s quite a list, but the medical research is solid and comprehensive (see referenced articles on wine and these individual diseases at

By now you may know that the health benefits of wine are largely due to the phytochemicals it contains, specifically polyphenols. Polyphenols include four categories of compounds: phenolic acids, flavonoids, lignans, and stilbenes. Wine─particularly red wine─is a rich source of a variety of phenolics, flavonoids, and resveratrol, a class of stilbenes. In fact, did you know that a mere 4 oz. glass of wine may contain up to 200 different types of polyphenols?

These compounds work synergistically to enhance wellness and minimize your risk of a wide range of disease states, especially within the context of a healthy, produce-rich diet. Wine is a whole food, and despite many current claims, no pill purporting to contain a few of these compounds can ever deliver the collective benefits wine offers. Clearly, wine in moderation meets─and exceeds─the definition of a functional food.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Champagne: A Toast to Health

By now you know red wine is famous for many health benefits, but what about the world’s favorite celebratory elixir? Champagne─which is generally a white sparkling wine either produced in the Champagne region of France or resembling that which is produced there─has been consumed for thousands of years. Champagne is made the same way as wine, but a second fermentation process is added. This occurs when the wine stays in the bottle. A fermentation of carbon dioxide bubbles occur, giving champagne its sparkling characteristic.

It turns out that champagne has some health benefits well worth celebrating. Research suggests that this world-renowned libation may help protect the brain against neurological injuries that are obtained during a stroke, as well as the degenerative effects of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Champagne offers a protective effect against nerve injury caused by oxidation. This protection appears to be due in part to phenolics including tyrosol, caffeic acid, and gallic acid.1

Although white wine lacks the resveratrol content of red wine, it still packs a wellness punch due to the other polyphenols it contains, like tyrosol, mentioned above, and hydroxytyrosol. These compounds offer cardiovascular protection given their abilities to improve ventricular performance, reduce cardiomyocyte apoptosis (programmed death of heart cells), and protect against free radical damage.2

Along with both cardiovascular and neuro-protective benefits, wine phenolics may also have anticarcinogenic (cancer prevention) effects. Although white wines have a lower phenolic content than red wines, the phenols they do contain appear to have a higher antioxidant capacity than red wine phenols.3 A votre santé!

1 Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1999;25(2-3):121-4.
2 J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Oct 22;56(20):9362-73. Epub 2008 Sep 27 9
3Arch Biochem Biophys. 2010 Mar 31. [Epub ahead of print]

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wine, Antioxidants and Wellness

Though you are no doubt familiar with the term antioxidants, learning more about them can greatly benefit you in your quest for optimal health, longevity and disease prevention. Antioxidants are compounds produced in the body and found in many foods─especially fruits and vegetables─that act within our bodies as a vital, frontline defense against the free radicals that constantly and adversely affect our cells. Did you know that during the past 20 years, more than 30,000 scientific papers have been written about antioxidants and their fight to protect your body from free radical damage?

Certainly, free-radical damage is impossible to avoid, as these dangerous molecules are produced naturally in our bodies and are further promoted by our exposure to stress, pollution, pesticides, chemicals, cigarette smoke, medications, solar radiation, and more. However, they pose an ongoing and significant threat to your health and well-being, damaging cells through the process of oxidation. In fact scientists now believe that free radicals play a role in nearly every known disease including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis, among others. Many of the processes we call "aging" are in fact manifestations of cumulative damage done by free radicals to tissue such as skin, blood vessels, and the brain.

So, how can you defend yourself? In short, the more dietary antioxidants you can consume each day, the more protection you gain against a host of diseases, including the one Americans fear most: cancer. As with all major diseases, prevention is the best medicine, and antioxidants are your allies! The key is targeting the richest dietary sources of these highly protective compounds. One guide is ORAC value─Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity units─which is a means of measuring antioxidant density developed by the National Institute on Aging in the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To see a huge list of foods ranked by their ORAC values, go to

Where does red wine come in? In terms of ORAC value, red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon rank above apples, strawberries, cherries, broccoli, almonds─even pomegranate juice. Red wine might be justifiably called a dietary health hero based on hundreds of studies discussing wine antioxidants, as well as flavonoids like anthocyanidins, saponins and catechins, all of which have unique health promoting properties. These include preventing blood clots, disabling cholesterol from damaging blood vessel walls, and improving arterial function. And when it comes to resveratrol─wines starring antioxidant─the potential benefits are astounding. Among them, it appears that this phenolic compound affects age-regulated genes, allowing cells to live longer and offsetting the risk of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

Clearly, red wine in moderation is a powerful aid to protecting and even boosting your wellness. For best results, take your cue from Mediterranean wisdom and incorporate your wine in the context of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Red Wine, Women, & Weight: What You Need to Know

You might have heard about a recent study suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption may help prevent weight gain. This study in the Archives of Internal Medicine─which surveyed nearly 20,000 American women age 38 and older─is the result of careful, credible research at the renowned Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. In fact, the female subjects were followed for over 12 years before the conclusions were drawn: “Compared with nondrinkers, initially normal-weight women who consumed a light to moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight and/or obese during 12.9 years of follow-up.”1

It’s worth noting that although the study found "an inverse association between alcohol intake and risk of becoming overweight or obese for all four types of alcoholic beverages─red wine, white wine, beer and liquor─the strongest association was found for red wine.” The link between white wine and weight loss was “weak yet significant.” As interesting as this news is, we have to bear in mind that all alcoholic beverages are high-calorie, with a greater density at 7 calories per gram than either protein or carbs, both at 4 calories per gram. Fat still remains the highest source of calories at 9 calories per gram.

We're likely to agree that many factors played into this research. For example, women who consume red wine in moderation may also be more balanced in other areas of their lives, which would help keep weight in check. Also, many women tend to substitute alcohol for other potentially high-carb foods, whereas when men consume alcohol, they often add those calories to what they're normally eating. Additionally, women metabolize alcohol differently than men do.

The reality, as many of us know too well, is that after age 40, women are more prone to weight gain for several reasons─including changes in hormones and metabolic rate─so the more we can learn about lifestyle management choices that keep us healthy and trim, the better. Again, it’s not the good red wine alone, but the lifestyle you build around it. A votre santé!

1 Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(5):453-461

Friday, March 5, 2010

Red Wine & Lung Health

If you’re not a smoker, you may not think much about lung health. And yet, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer mortality in the United States today. Even non-smokers are frequently exposed to environmental toxins like air pollution from vehicle smog, cigarette smoke, allergens, and other irritants. Did you know that ongoing exposure to these harmful substances can increase your chances of developing lung cancer, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments over time? So, how can you protect yourself, besides avoiding second hand smoke and pollution in general whenever possible?

Well, you probably know that regular, vigorous aerobic exercise tones and strengthens your lungs, not to mention benefiting you in many other ways. There are also antioxidant-rich food choices that go a long way towards preventing lung health issues, which include fruits, vegetables and─believe it or not─red wine. It turns out that resveratrol─a potent antioxidant found in red wine─inhibits several types of cancer, including lung cancer. But resveratrol is not a one-man show, which is why taking a pill will never yield the exact benefits of a whole food substance like red wine. In this case, resveratrol operates in concert with its analog pterostilbene to inhibit lung cancer cell growth.1

Several studies have demonstrated a positive effect of moderate wine consumption on pulmonary (lung) health and considerable research in Scandinavia, Europe and South America has suggested a protective effect of wine consumption against lung cancer, especially adenocarcinoma.2 Another study was undertaken to estimate the effect of wine consumption, both overall and by type of wine, on the risk of developing lung cancer. While a slight but significant benefit was observed with white wine consumption, red wine offered much greater protection, with each daily glass having an inverse association with the development of lung cancer.3

On another lung health note, did you know that an estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, with 250,000 annual deaths attributed to the disease?4Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways, and the current focus in managing asthma is the control of inflammation. It turns out that resveratrol has the ability to suppress some of the worst asthma symptoms, operating much like dexamethasone, a glucocorticoid drug used as a positive control. These results suggest that resveratrol may be helpful in treating bronchial asthma, among its other lung health benefits. Stay tuned for more information on red wine and asthma. Meanwhile, here’s to your (lung) health!

1 J Surg Res. 2009 Jul 21 [Epub ahead of print]
2 Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2006;117:129-45
3 Thorax. 2004 Nov;59(11):981-5
4 World Health Organization. Global surveillance, prevention and control of chronic respiratory diseases: a comprehensive approach, 2007
5 Int Immunopharmacol. 2009 Apr;9(4):418-24. Epub 2009 Feb 8

Friday, February 26, 2010

Red Wine & Cancer Prevention

Although heart disease remains the #1 one killer for Americans, there seems to be far more fear and mystery associated with cancer. It’s certainly understandable that heart disease is less daunting. Unlike cancer, it typically issues many warnings along the way, such as elevated cholesterol levels, chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, etc. And heart disease tends to be fairly reversible, even in the later stages. Cancer is quite a different story. Few would disagree that because there is no “cure” and treatment options are agonizingly expensive, that all efforts we can make towards prevention are not only valuable─they may be lifesaving.

So how can you minimize your cancer risk? Fortunately, most of the lifestyle choices that help protect you from heart disease, stroke and diabetes also cut your cancer risk. Here are 5 key actions you can take:

• Avoid tobacco, in all forms, all the time
• Reach─and maintain─a healthy body weight
• Swap the white flour items for whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal
• Boost your daily intake of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables
• Enjoy wine─especially red─in moderation

Wait, what was that last one? Yes, you read it right, though moderation is important. Too much wine─especially for women─and you may reverse the cancer-fighting benefits. So, just how does a daily glass of red wine help you defy cancer? It turns out that along with being heart-healthy, resveratrol-rich red wine exhibits specific anticancer properties, like its ability to suppress the spread of a wide range of tumor cells, including lymphoid and myeloid cancers; cancers of the breast, prostate, stomach, colon, pancreas, and thyroid; melanoma; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, and ovarian and cervical carcinomas. Wow, what a list!

Apparently, resveratrol concentrates in the liver and kidneys, protecting you from the multi-step process of carcinogenesis at various stages. It blocks the activation of carcinogens as well as suppressing tumor initiation, promotion, and progression.1 The European Journal of Cancer Research chimes in, stating that wine consumption may decrease the risk of cancer at several sites including cancer of the upper digestive tract, lung, colon, basal cell carcinoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Moreover, resveratrol inhibits the metabolic activation of carcinogens, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and decreases cancer cell proliferation.2

Many studies have established that resveratrol exerts anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, while also regulating (in your favor) the multiple cellular events associated with cancer development─the "cancer cascade." Studies with resveratrol support its use not only for cancer prevention, but in treatment combinations as well.3

Although there is no magic bullet when it comes to protecting yourself from cancer, there is a series of daily choices that in total make a profound difference in both short term health and longevity down the line. So, embrace your wellness. A votre santé!

1 Anticancer Res. 2004 Sep-Oct;24(5A):2783-840
2 Eur J Cancer Prev. 2003 Oct;12(5):417-25
3 Curr Med Chem Anticancer Agents. 2003 Mar;3(2):77-93

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Zinfandel & Cholesterol: What’s the Connection?

You know by now that wine promotes a healthy heart, and you’re probably thinking “resveratrol.” Resveratrol certainly is the most widely recognized compound associated with the many health benefits of wine, but there are many other protective compounds that play major roles as well, including antioxidants, polyphenols, procyanidins, flavonoids, stilbenes and saponins. While these compounds have amazing benefits to offer, saponins deserve special mention when it comes to reducing cholesterol levels in the blood, according to Andrew Waterhouse, professor of Oenology at the University of California.1

Saponins, glucose-based plant compounds from the waxy skin of grapes that dissolve into the wine during its fermentation process, may rival resveratrol when it comes to promoting your health. Only here’s the beauty of it: they’re on the same team. Like resveratrol, saponins help reduce dangerous cholesterol levels, but by different means. While resveratrol appears to block cholesterol oxidation via antioxidant action, saponins work by binding to and preventing the absorption of cholesterol from food. Could this be a core piece in the French Paradox puzzle? It appears that saponins may also affect inflammatory pathways, which could also minimize your risk of heart disease and cancer (see below: Wine & Chronic Inflammation: What You Need to Know).

So what’s the Zinfandel connection? In general, Waterhouse found that while red wine contains up to 10 times the saponin levels as white wine, Zinfandel boasted the highest levels of all. Syrah had the second highest, followed by Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. With wellness in mind, you should target deeply pigmented red wines, which have typically spent the longest time in contact with their grape skins. This should be no hardship if you love rich, bold, complex reds. Also, wines with higher alcohol content are strongly linked with saponin levels, as alcohol may make the saponins more soluble in wine. In fact, the red Zinfandel Waterhouse tested was 16% alcohol. If this exciting information is news to you, it may just call for a toast with a generous glass of Zinfandel─the “saponin star.” In vino veratis!

1 American Chemical Society (2003, September 9). New Cholesterol Fighter Found In Red Wine. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 18, 2010, from /releases/2003/09/030909070840.htm