Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
by Dr Philip Norrie M.B. B.S. M.Sc. M.Soc.Sc.(Hons)
Resveratrol, along with quercetin and epicatechin, is one of the main antioxidants found in wine. It is a phenolic bioflavonoid compound which acts as an anti - fungal agent in grapes, especially during ripening. Dr Edwin Frankel, of Davis University in California, has shown that these antioxidants in wine are five times more potent as antioxidants than the benchmark antioxidant, vitamin E.

One of the main functions of antioxidants is to inhibit low density lipoprotein(LDL) or bad cholesterol from entering blood vessel walls and forming antheromatous plaques which eventually block off arteries causing vascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

The other main function of antioxidants is to inhibit the action of free radicals which are negatively charged rogue molecules (with one unpaired electron in their orbit). The body is continuously producing waste products from its many complex bio chemical pathways. These waste products include free radicals which become free agents causing biochemical havoc leading to such things as body degeneration, aging and cancer.

A new role for antioxiadants has been found by researchers at the university of Milan.

Exciting new research into resveratrol is showing that it has other benefits besides its antioxidant role in reducing vascular disease and cancer for example. Scientists at The University of Milan under Alberto Bertelli have shown that resveratrol stimulates Mapkinase, their paper having been published in The New Scientist on the 9th January 1999. MapKinase stands for mitogen-activated-protein kinase which is a proactive enzyme cascade forming one of the main intracellular signalling pathways stimulated by upstream activators such as resveratrol. As such, Mapkinase cascades are very important intracellular signal transducer pathways playing a vital role in cell proliferation, differentiation and transformation.In the nervous system Mapkinase stimulates nerve cells and helps them regenerate by up to sevenfold.

Researchers found that resveratrol made the human neural cells grow extensions which enabled them to connect to neighbouring nerve cells. This helps explain why wine drinkers have less of the neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease (commonest form of dementia) and Parkinson's disease due to the resveratrol in the wine helping the nerve cells in the brain grow and connect. In neurodegenerative diseases, these connections break down. "By daily reenforcing these contacts we can prevent neurodegeneration" Dr Bertelli has stated.

Professor Jean-Marc Orgogozo, head of Neurology at The University Hospital of Bordeaux and a member of AIM's Editorial Board, published a paper entitled "Wine consumption and dementia in the elderly: a prospective community study in the Bordeaux area".Rev Neurol (Paris) 1997 April 153(3): 185-92 which similarly shows that moderate wine consumers are less likely to develop neuro-degenerative diseases.

Consuming wine in moderation would also mean that the vascular tree within the brain would be less diseased, hence able to supply the brain's nerves with more blood containing essential oxygen and glucose. This is another mechanism by which wine helps the brain function better.

So wine in moderation can be referred to as "brain friendly" as it helps prevent strokes and nerve cell degeneration, which is in marked contrast to what was previously thought about the effects of any form of alcohol on the brain. Abuse of alcohol severly damages nerve cells leading to Wernicke's encephalopathy, Korsakoff's syndrome peripheral neuropathy and other forms of nerve degeneration.

Dr Kindl at The University of Marburg in Germany has associated the genes for the synthesis of resveratrol in grapevine DNA so that these genes could be incorporated into new vine root stock. This opens up a new area of preventative public health - get your daily dose of the antioxidant resveratrol in a wonderful form - resveratrol enriched wine!

Original research in Australia by Professor Geoff Skurray at The University of Western Sydney has shown that different wine filtration techniques during wine making can greatly affect how much resveratrol is left in the wine after filtration. Various fining agents commonly used by oenologists were tested. Polycar removed 92% of resveratrol. Casein, egg white and alginate also removed some resveratrol whilst gelatin had a variable but relatively little effect. So winemaking techniques, as well as grape variety (red wines contains more resveratrol than white) and growing season (summer rain years produce more resveratrol) play an important role as to how much resveratrol there is in a wine.

Because wine contains so much antioxiant activity, along with its alcohol content, it has been shown to reduce death from vascular disease and death from all causes by up to 50% and reduce cancer rates by up to 24%. Wine (in moderation) can therefore be recommended as a pleasurable and preventative health measure for the thinking person.

Dr Philip Norrie is a general practitioner, vineyard owner and an author of books on wine and health. He is a member of The AIM-Alcohol in Moderation Editorial Board.

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