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Antioxidants in Wine: The Health Debate Continues

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GrapevineI accumulate readers’ questions and comments, then periodically address one of them in a column. For what it’s worth, these columns are my thoughts on facts and misconceptions swirling around the wine world, which are popping up on readers’ radar screens.

There is a plethora of information adrift in the “Bacchusphere,” some soundly embedded in scientific studies or validated anecdotal experience and some steeped in myth and lore. This week’s column is focused on a topic that has received widespread publicity in the news media.

The popular belief: Drinking wine has significant health benefits. Fact or myth? A well-grounded, reliable axiom or more of the same media hype we see on the national news shows every day? Much has been written about this subject; I’d like to add my opinion and take the subject one step further.

The premise requires dissection:

  1. Not all wines contain the healthy benefits touted in the popular press. The healthy components of wine are its antioxidants, which protect our healthy cells and destroy dangerous cells. These antioxidants are dominant in red wine, not white wine.
  2. Specific antioxidants, polyphenols, have been proven to be the most helpful in our quest for healthy lives. A specific form of polyphenol, resveratrol, has been isolated as the key compound that provides the greatest health benefits. Resveratrol resides in the skins and seeds of red wine.
  3. The health benefits of red wine are numerous when consumed in moderation (two five-ounce glasses per day for males; one glass for females). When consumed in excess, there is a high risk of damage to multiple organs. As in most matters, moderation is the key to the optimization of wine’s benefits.
  4. Resveratrol is available commercially in a non-alcoholic form.

There are those who question the veracity of the anecdotal claims of the benefits of resveratrol. How can a single substance claim to play a major role in our health, protecting the heart and brain, preventing and fighting cancers, reversing diabetes and obesity, boosting the immune system and slowing the aging process?

In recent years, multiple scientific studies have been undertaken to ascertain the claims attributed to resveratrol. They have validated the claims made outside the laboratory, in the controlled environs of medical studies. The scientific community has now embraced the mystique and hype concerning this wonder compound. It seems each week a respected professional publication reports the results of studies focused on the impressive effects of resveratrol on a wide range of human functions, processes and maladies that comprise our physiology.  

Are the healthful benefits of red wine isolated to a glass of wine? Hardly. In the wake of studies proclaiming the benefits of polyphenols, a new subcategory of natural foods, dubbed superfoods, is gaining popularity. Blueberries, pomegranates, raspberries, broccoli, spinach, acai berries, nuts, wild salmon and black table grapes, long components of the Mediterranean diet, all contain beneficial antioxidant compounds. By incorporating these superfoods into a sustained and balanced diet, the antioxidant benefits of red wine can be replicated.

Enterprising companies have capitalized on the growing reputation of the powers of this antioxidant. Resveratrol-in-a-capsule, sans alcohol and calories, is now available and can be purchased from many reputable supplement companies. One concentrated capsule a day (100 mg) contains the equivalent of the resveratrol in 100 glasses of wine, with no known side effects.

I have been heeding my own advice for more than 10 years, consuming 100 mg of formulated resveratrol each day, supplemented with as many of the superfoods as I can conveniently include in my daily diet. (For example, a handful of walnuts as an after-dinner snack and exchanging wild salmon for chicken in a recipe as often as possible.)

Before consuming resveratrol, consult your physician. Disclaimer: The information in this column should not be relied upon as professional medical advice.

E-mail me with your additional sources of resveratrol. Let’s capitalize on what nature offers to help maintain our health.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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