There is a plethora of research and guidance which discuss the health consequences of consuming alcohol. In the United Kingdom, it is recommended that both men and women do not frequently consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week.
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This is roughly equivalent to drinking ten small glasses of wine or six pints of beer. However, it is also suggested that there is no safe amount of alcohol that can be drunk without potentially causing health issues such as liver cirrhosis, coronary heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
Despite these recommendations, a recent study has questioned whether red wine consumed in moderation may still provide some health benefits.
Is red wine good for the body?
Recent research published in the journal Gastroenterology suggests that a daily glass of red wine may provide health benefits for the human gut microbiome. The microbiome is a term used to describe the group of genomes of micro-organisms that reside in the human gut. The microbes of the gut are considered to play a vital role in metabolic and immune systems as well as in systems that regulate human behavior.
Researchers from the Department of Twin Research Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London and the VIB Centre for Microbiology KU Leuven Laboratory of Molecular Bacteriology at the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium worked in collaboration on the project.
The research involved the collection of dietary, food, and drink habits from a large population sample across the United Kingdom, the United States, and Belgium in three ongoing studies. Specifically, twin study data was collected from the UK, and subsequent data from the US and Belgium was derived from the American Gut Project and Flemish Gut Project, respectively.
The researchers found that drinking red wine, even in instances where other types of alcohol were consumed, is linked to a healthy pattern of gut microbe. Furthermore, by analyzing twin study data, they found that in individuals that consumed a higher quantity of red wine compared to their twin had a healthy gut. This reduces the probability that, in this instance, health gut microbes were caused by familial genetic traits.
The researchers also compared the effects of drinking other types of alcohol on gut health. It was found that those who consumed beers, spirits, or white wine did not demonstrate the same healthy gut microbiome.
Other findings relate to the broader health effects of drinking red wine. Twin study data found that individuals that drank a higher quantity of red wine compared to their twin had a reduced risk of developing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and obesity. It is believed that this is caused by polyphenols present in red wine.
The health benefits of polyphenols
The researchers of the study argued that the health wider health benefits of drinking red wine might be down to polyphenols present in the alcohol. This notion aligns well with previous research that suggests that moderate and regular consumption of red wine may play a role in preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Polyphenols are present in a range of food products, including seeds and nuts, and some fruit and vegetables such as grapes. Grapes, in particular, are considered to have a large number of polyphenols in their skin. In wine, specifically, they are typically greater amounts found in red wine compared to white wine.
Researchers suggest that polyphenols are also present in grape-based non-alcoholic drinks, but in lower content. Furthermore, red wine is considered to host resveratrol - an antioxidant that has been found to improve the composition of the gut’s microbiome – which has also been found to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer and heart disease.
Implications of the research
This study is considered to be the largest of its kind to investigate and conclude that moderate consumption of red wine provides gut microbiome health benefits as well as having protective effects against serious health conditions. From this, insight has been gained into the health benefits of polyphenols.
However, there are limitations to the study. As a purely observational study, causality cannot be established. Therefore, to determine that the effects were indeed caused solely by red wine, more controlled research is needed.
Furthermore, the study presents potential conflict against longstanding advice regarding the health implications of consuming alcohol in any quantity. However, researchers from this study suggest that if individuals wish to drink any alcohol, then based on this research, a small glass of red might may be the best option due to the proposed health benefits.
NHS (2019). Alcohol support: The risks of drinking too much. www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-support/the-risks-of-drinking-too-much/
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Valdes, A. M., Walter, J., Segal, E., & Spector, T. D. (2018). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. Science and Politics of Nutrition. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2179
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Le Roy, C. I., Wells, P. M., SI, J., Raes, J., Bell, J. T., & Spector, T. D. (2019). Red Wine Consumption Associated with Increased Gut Microbiota α-diversity in 3 Independent Cohorts. Gastroenterology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2019.08.024