British researchers have come up with yet another reason for drinking red wine.
They’ve discovered that a powerful antioxidant found naturally in red wines, resveratrol, remains effective at fighting cancer even after the body has converted it into other compounds.
Excitement over the discovery is based on the fact that it overturns the existing understanding of resveratrol's behavior. Because the antioxident is metabolized very quickly, researchers thought its health-giving properties were lost.
But a new study conducted at the University of Leicester shows that wine drinkers can still reap the benefits of resveratrol even after it has been turned into resveratrol sulfates. The trigger lies within cells, where enzymes are able to convert the sulfates back to resveratrol again.
In fact, the results appear to show that resveratrol concentration may be higher after enzymes have broken down resveratrol sulfate.
Led by cancer research expert Professor Karen Brown, the Leicester research showed that resveratrol generated from resveratrol sulfate was able to slow the growth of cancer cells and stop them from dividing.
“There is a lot of strong evidence from laboratory models that resveratrol can do a whole host of beneficial things – from protecting against a variety of cancers and heart disease to extending lifespan," Brown said.
Red wines contain higher concentrations of resveratrol than whites. The reason is that red wine is fermented in contact with the grape skins, which contain resveratrol. The maceration process encourages the extraction of resveratrol and several other potent antioxidants from the skins.
Enhancing resveratrol in wines
In Australia, medical practitioner and wine writer Philip Norrie has developed a range of resveratrol-enhanced wines under the "Wine Doctor" label.
Dr. Norrie, who has a Ph.D. in the history of wine as medicine, says the winemaking process developed by his team increases the amount of resveratrol in red wine from 3–6 milligrams a liter to 100 mg per liter. White wines also soar to 100 mg/L, from a starting base of 1 mg/L.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, resveratrol-enhanced pinot noir and sauvignon blanc are available under Southern Wines’ Balancing Act label.
Dr Sarah Williams of Cancer Research U.K., which funded the University of Leicester work, adds a word of caution.
“This interesting study supports continued research into resveratrol as a therapeutic molecule, but it’s important to note that any benefits from the molecule don’t come from drinking red wine. It’s well established that drinking any type of alcohol, including red wine, increases the risk of developing cancer.”
Dr Norrie, on his website, offers an alternative viewpoint: “Unless you have a specific allergy or intolerance to alcohol, and if you consume it in moderation, wine offers only health benefits. As Abraham Lincoln said, the issue with alcohol is not ‘the use of a bad thing, but the abuse of a very good thing.’”