Red wine could benefit gut bacteria finds study

There are innumerable studies that outline the ill effects of consumption of alcohol. Intake of alcohol is associated with rising risk of several diseases including liver disease, cancers and heart disease. However a new study has revealed that a glass of red wine each day could be beneficial for the gut microbiome of humans.

Gut microbiome or gut bacteria are healthy bacteria that are present in the intestines of humans and are linked to several health benefits. A healthy gut microbiome for example is linked to a healthy immunity and healthy digestive functions. The study titled, “Red Wine Consumption Associated With Increased Gut Microbiota α-diversity in 3 Independent Cohorts,” was published in the latest issue of the journal Gastroenterology.

Image Credit: Billion Photos / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Billion Photos / Shutterstock

For this study the team of researchers from Department of Twin Research Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College, London and VIB Centre for Microbiology KU Leuven, Laboratory of Molecular Bacteriology, Rega Institute for Medical Research, Belgium in collaboration collected food, drink and dietary habits of a large population. The data collected was from three large ongoing studies write the researchers. From UK the data came from 916 pairs of twins who were part of a study. From the USA the data came from the American Gut Project and from Belgium the data came from the Flemish Gut Project, the team wrote.

Results revealed that drinking red wine even when combined with other forms of alcohol is associated with a healthy gut microbe pattern. The team answered for genetics and familial traits in having a naturally healthy gut microbe pattern by showing that one of the twins that consumed more red wine had a healthier gut microbe pattern compared to their co-twin that consumed less of red wine. Persons drinking white wine or other types of spirits of beer did not show similar benefits to their gut microbes, the study noted. The study also found that the twins that drank more red wine had a lower risk of obesity and bad cholesterol compared to their co-twin that drank less of red wine. The team of researchers believe that this benefit could also be attributed to healthy gut bacteria.

Intestinal microbiome, 3D illustration showing anatomy of human digestive system and enteric bacteria Escherichia coli, E. coli, colonizing jejunum, ileum, other parts of intestine. Gut normal flora. Image Credit: Kateryna Kon / Shutterstock
Intestinal microbiome, 3D illustration showing anatomy of human digestive system and enteric bacteria Escherichia coli, E. coli, colonizing jejunum, ileum, other parts of intestine. Gut normal flora. Image Credit: Kateryna Kon / Shutterstock

The researchers explain that a specific component of red wine – polyphenols are possibly responsible for the benefits observed in these individuals. They write that polyphenols also occur in other foods such as nuts and seeds as well as in certain vegetables and fruits including grapes. The grapes have a rich content of polyphenols in their skin and these are found in greater amounts in red wine compared to white wine. Red wine is also rich in health promoting molecule called resveratrol that can improve gut microbial composition. These antioxidant properties, explain the researchers are present in not only fruits and vegetables but also in coffee, chocolate, tea and wine. These play a role in protecting a person from heart disease and cancers. The researchers explain that non-alcoholic grape juice is also rich in polyphenols but the content is higher in red wine.

Lead study author Caroline Le Roy said, “While we have long known of the unexplained benefits of red wine on heart health, this study shows that moderate red wine consumption is associated with greater diversity and a healthier gut microbiota that partly explain its long-debated beneficial effects on health.”

Professor Tim Spector, senior author from King’s College London, in his statement said, “This is one of the largest-ever studies to explore the effects of red wine in the guts of nearly 3,000 people in three different countries and provides insights that the high levels of polyphenols in the grape skin could be responsible for much of the controversial health benefits, when used in moderation.”

Sadie Boniface, research co-ordinator at the Institute of Alcohol Studies added, “No doctor would recommend drinking on medical grounds, as any potential benefits of red wine polyphenols should be considered alongside alcohol’s links to over 200 health conditions, including heart disease and cancers as identified in the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines review.” She said, “Polyphenols are also available from a range of other foods besides red wine.”

The authors of the study explain, “While our results are very consistent, as an observational study – where we see if factors are associated more than by chance – we cannot prove causality. To show this we’d ideally need some form of intervention study to test whether red wine directly causes an increase in gut microbiota diversity that leads to improved health.” This means that this study merely is an observation and does not prove that taking red wine would improve the gut bacteria. Le Roy explained, “Although we observed an association between red wine consumption and the gut microbiota diversity, drinking red wine rarely, such as once every two weeks, seems to be enough to observe an effect.” “If you must choose one alcoholic drink today, red wine is the one to pick as it seems to potentially exert a beneficial effect on you and your gut microbes, which in turn may also help weight and risk of heart disease. However, it is still advised to consume alcohol with moderation,” she added.

They conclude, “So for now, all the evidence suggests that if you have to choose an alcoholic drink today, it should definitely be a small glass of red wine.”

Journal reference:

Red Wine Consumption Associated With Increased Gut Microbiota α-diversity in 3 Independent Cohorts Le Roy, Caroline I. et al. Gastroenterology, https://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(19)41244-4/fulltext

Dr. Ananya Mandal

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Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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