Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A toast to health with champagne?

Red wine is usually credited with providing the health benefits of drinking, because so many of the compounds associated with specific biochemical properties come from the skins and seeds of the vinifera grape. Since red wine is made by fermenting the whole berry, skins, seeds and all, these molecules are extracted into the nascent wine. Resveratrol in particular is increasingly touted as the explanation for the French Paradox, despite mounting evidence that it is the combination of substances in wine working together synergistically that best fits the data. In any case, white wines and champagne get short shrift in the health story, but new evidence suggests we should take another look.

It is true that champagne contains relatively little resveratrol, the miracle molecule. But it does contain two other potent antioxidants, tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol. If you are a student of the Mediterranean diet, you may have heard of these as being the principal antioxidants in olive oil. Since wine and olive oil are both primary components of the Mediterranean diet, it is likely that these compounds play a much larger role than resveratrol, which is present in only small quantities even in red wine. This was confirmed in a recent study from the University of Connecticut, in which rats were given either red or white wine and then induced to heart attack. Both types of wine conferred equal protection against damage to the heart, via antioxidant reactions.

So let’s toast to the New Year with champagne, to health, long life, to friends and family, and to the poor rats who unwittingly devoted their lives to science.

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