Whenever I hear the words, “red wine,” I automatically get an ear worm as the song reminiscent of Bob Marley begins streaming in my head, and reggae music brings that warm fuzzy feeling…long before the wine does. One year ago, I wrote my first blog. Yes, that was March 14, 2020. Little did I know that these musings linking science with society would be so popular- thank you! But, after another trip around the sun, I’m paying homage to that beverage that has been so near and dear to many throughout these past months: wine. Even if you’re not a fan of the alcoholic drink made from fermented grape juice, good wine needs no bush. (If that last phrase makes no sense to you, keep reading.)
In February 2021 (just last month), Sister Andre, a nun residing at the Ste. Catherine Laboure nursing home in Toulon, France, celebrated her 117th birthday eating foie gras with port, capon with mushrooms, and drinking red wine – something she routinely drinks. She had also beaten coronavirus infection. Another centenarian who made headlines by beating the virus this year was 105-year-old New Jersey resident, Lucia DeClerck, who credits eating 9 gin-soaked raisins daily as her secret to longevity. Anecdotally you often hear of the health benefits of alcohol, but is it the elixir for longevity and immunity?
The scientific literature is ripe with research on the health benefits of red wine. These range from lowering cardiovascular disease risk to boosting life expectancy. Like yin and yang, there is a counterbalance as too much alcohol has the opposite effect. However, light drinking seems to be associated with good health, and wine drinking seems to be a common denominator in the Blue Zones – societies where people have the longest life expectancy. Diving deeper into the studies, one discovers that there is no single magic potion. Rather, the refrain we’ve been hearing for years continues to echo: Complement that red wine with beans, greens, grains, and nuts. Yeah, yeah, but what’s IN the wine? The answer is resveratrol, found in grape skins. Does it have to be red wine? Can it be white wine? Yes, it has to be red wine because red is richer in resveratrol. (Say that three times fast.) The reason red wine contains more resveratrol than white wine does has to do with how the wine is made: Red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than white wine is, so the compound survives the wine-making process.
In addition to being a 4-syllable word that would score you 14 points playing Scrabble, resveratrol is a natural polyphenol that is a powerful antioxidant, antifungal, and antibacterial agent found in some foods, like grapes. Studies done both in vitro (test tubes) and in vivo (in living organisms) have shown it to have a laundry list of benefits and effects. Its beneficial properties include: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-aging effects; being cardioprotective and neuroprotective; and dilating blood vessels (this lowers blood pressure). Grapes likely have high concentrations of resveratrol to naturally ward off plant fungal infections.
Resveratrol is not found in either gin or raisins though. Despite raisins being dried grapes, resveratrol is destroyed during the drying process. But raisins are an excellent source of anti-oxidants, fiber, potassium, and iron. Going through each purported benefit and its mechanism of action is beyond our attention span here.
The take-home message is that resveratrol can be considered a nutraceutical, which is a substance found in food that has extra health benefits. While you can take a resveratrol supplement, your body absorbs the compound better from food. If you’re not inclined to drink red wine, no worries: blueberries, bilberries, cranberries, dark chocolate, grapes, grape juice, peanuts, pistachios, and plums also contain resveratrol.
Cheers to Neil Diamond, who originally wrote, performed, and recorded Red Red Wine in 1967. And cheers to you for living through a pandemic!
*According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the phrase “good wine needs no bush” is a proverb meaning “there’s no need to advertise or boast about something of good quality as people will always discover its merits.”
Photo Credit: My good friend, Jim Obergefell; co-founder of Equality Vines – premium wines supporting equality for all