Until recently, we didn't know that the hundreds of compounds in wine
did anything other than give wine its superb flavor, aroma and hue. Then we
learned that these compounds provide more than aesthetic effects. During
these past few years scientific evidence has suggested that the blend of
organic compounds swirling in every glass of wine may be a potent source of
Now we are just starting to learn that antioxidant activity may be
just one of the functions wine compounds perform.
Trans-Resveratrol: Antioxidant and Anti-Estrogen
Last time we considered the promise of wine-based antioxidants. This time
we are going to take a closer look at one of the studies that we mentioned
because it turns out that the key protective functions discovered for
resveratrol are not as an antioxidant but as an anti-estrogen.
This recent study from researchers at Old Dominion University found
that trans-resveratrol, a phenolic compound found in both red and white
wine, possesses anti-estrogenic properties which may be involved in the
reduction of breast cancer risk. Trans-resveratrol was found to be
"cytotoxic" contributing to breast cancer cell death and to prevent
estrogen binding, which may otherwise promote harmful cell growth.
According to lead researcher Roy L. Williams, Ph.D., phytoestrogens
such as trans-resveratrol may provide an "essential piece of the puzzle"
to help explain studies finding moderate wine consumption to be associated
with a lower risk of overall mortality and potentially lower rates of
breast and prostate cancer. Dr. Williams discussed his most recent
findings at a National Press Club conference in Washington, D.C., on
Monday, May 12 as part of Wine Institute's annual Washington week. Dr.
Williams's research abstract will be published later this summer by the
Virginia Academy of Science. Dr. Williams has also been invited to present
his study at the annual meeting of the American Society of Enology and
Viticulture in New York in July.
Dr. Williams points out that
trans-resveratrol is only one of a family of phytoestrogens that may have
anti-estrogenic properties that enable the compounds to effectively bind to
estrogen receptors helping to "modulate estrogen levels," which, when too
high, may lead to the development of breast cancer. New results from
Williams' in vitro study, conducted at Old Dominion's Enology Research
Facility along with colleague Mark Elliot, Ph.D., found that
trans-resveratrol was nearly as effective with regard to cytotoxicity as
Tamoxifen, a clinically prescribed breast cancer drug, and more effective
than the phytoestrogen known as genistein, found in soy products.
Depending on the rate of absorption, says Williams, "Moderate consumption
of wine could provide some beneficial effects against hormone-dependent
cancers such as breast cancer."
This current research is the first to
identify trans-resveratrol's potential role in breast cancer prevention,
and is the third study in the past six months associating anti-cancer
effects with wine compounds. This work now establishes a dual function for
trans-resveratrol as a
phytoestrogen capable of favorably affecting breast
cancer as well as an antioxidant, as earlier studies have indicated,
potentially contributing to a reduced heart disease risk.
New Test Finds High Antioxidant Activity For
Whatever new direction research on wine compounds may take it is
important to continue to explore their antioxidant potential. Antioxidants
prevent the oxidation of unhealthy LDL cholesterol into plaque, the
substance that clogs arteries and contributes to cardiovascular disease.
Antioxidants also have been shown to protect cells against the destructive
activities of molecules called free radicals. These free radicals, whether
produced by the body's own metabolism, carcinogens or radiation, can attack
DNA in cells through the oxidation process. The genetic mutation that can
result plays a key role in the development of cancer. Scientists generally
agree that dietary antioxidants appear to help prevent both heart disease
and cancer, the leading causes of death in the U.S., by protecting the body
from oxidative damage.
A new antioxidant test developed by Randox
Laboratories in the United Kingdom should assist research efforts in this
area. The commercially available test kits can measure total antioxidant
status (TAS) in any beverage. Preliminary tests so far have rated red
wines among the highest, with California reds noted to have particularly
high antioxidant content.
Some Scientists Still Question Effects Of Wine
Most scientists today accept without question the fact that moderate
alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of heart disease. Many scientists
also acknowledge that moderate drinkers enjoy a reduced risk for premature
death from all causes. One area that remains controversial at this time is
the issue of additional benefits reported for wine drinkers. Some
researchers continue to maintain that there are no additional benefits
despite the convincing number of studies reporting that moderate wine
consumers fare better than consumers of all other beverages. Other
researchers are willing to concede that wine drinkers are healthier but
they attribute this to factors other than wine itself, such as higher
levels of education and income among wine drinkers and/or the pattern of
consuming wine with meals which optimizes alcohol's favorable effect on
There is no question that there is some truth to all of
the above. A significant portion of the benefits described for wine no
doubt come from the ethyl alcohol component. Drinking wine at mealtimes,
a healthy lifestyle and comfortable living conditions all contribute most
certainly to longevity. But acknowledging these factors does not mean one
can discount the role of wine-based phenolic compounds may play in
NIAAA To Sponsor Antioxidant Research
The whole subject of antioxidants in wine is of great current
interest to the scientific community with strong opinions on both sides.
Clearly more research is needed to verify from the perspective of the
scientific community the biological activity of compounds in wine. We
hope that we will soon be able to have the scientific proof we need to
continue our education efforts in this vital area. Later this summer the
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) will announce a
new research grants program dedicated to funding research on antioxidants
and their properties in beverages containing alcohol. Of course, no one
can predict the outcome of scientific research but we are confident based
on the evidence we have seen to date that there will be exciting results to
discuss when these studies are completed. Whether these studies will
venture into the health protective effects of wine compounds that do not
fall into the antioxidant category remains to be seen. But the good news
here is that there is so much more to discover and so much more to learn
about this thousands of years old beverage.
Elisabeth Holmgren is the Director of the Department of Research and Education at Wine Institute. She is responsible
for developing and managing public policy, research and education programs related to the wide variety of health and
social issues that impact the wine industry.
For additional information on any
of the research studies mentioned in this article, please contact the Department
of Research and Education at Wine
Institute at (415) 512-0151.
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Latest Update: October 31, 1997