The benefits of alcohol are all about moderation. Low to moderate drinking – especially of red wine – appears to reduce causes of mortality, while too much drinking causes multiple organ damage.
A mini-review of recent findings on red wine's polyphenols, particularly one called resveratrol, will be published in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research; the review is also available at Early View.
"Reports on the benefits of red wine are almost two centuries old,” said Associate Professor Lindsay Brown, of the School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Queensland and corresponding author for the study.
"The media developed the more recent story of the French paradox in the early 1990s.
"However, studies on the actions of resveratrol, one of the active non-alcoholic ingredients, were uncommon until research around 1997 showed prevention of cancers. This led to a dramatic interest in this compound."
Red wine contains a complex mixture of bioactive compounds, including flavonols, monomeric and polymeric flavan-3-ols, highly colored anthocyanins, as well as phenolic acids and the stilbene polyphenol, resveratrol. Brown said that some of these compounds, particularly resveratrol, appear to have health benefits.
“The breadth of benefits is remarkable – cancer prevention, protection of the heart and brain from damage, reducing age-related diseases such as inflammation, reversing diabetes and obesity, and many more,” Dr Brown said.
"It has long been a question as to how such a simple compound could have these effects but now the puzzle is becoming clearer with the discovery of the pathways, especially the sirtuins, a family of enzymes that regulate the production of cellular components by the nucleus.
"Is resveratrol the only compound with these properties? This would seem unlikely, with similar effects reported for other components of wine and for other natural products such as curcumin. However, we know much more about resveratrol relative to these other compounds."
UQ Professor pharmacology Stephen Taylor, said that resveratrol was the "compound du jour."
"I think that red wine has both some mystique and some historical symbolism in the west," Professor Taylor said.
"And of course, there are some various pleasures attached to its ingestion, all of which give it a psychological advantage edge, food-wise. Not many of us can or will eat a couple of cups of blueberries a day for years on end, but if we could do a population study for a decade or so on such a group, you might actually see similar results."
Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.