Page last updated: Monday, May 12, 2008
New cholesterol fighter found in red wine
Scientists at the University of California, Davis, presenting at the American Chemical Society annual meeting 2003 claim to have identified another group of chemicals in red wine that is linked to the ability to lower cholesterol. Saponins are glucose-based plant compounds have been found in an increasing number of foods. This is the first time they’ve been found in wine, according to Andrew Waterhouse, Ph.D., Professor of Enology at UC Davis.

Saponins could be as important as resveratrol. The compounds are believed to come from the waxy skin of grapes. To better understand their distribution in wine, Waterhouse conducted a preliminary study of six varieties of California wines "Average dietary saponin intake has been estimated at 15 mg, while one glass of red has a total saponin concentration of about half that, making red wine a significant dietary source," commented Waterhouse. In general, Waterhouse found that red wine contains significantly higher saponin levels than white < about three to ten times as much. Among the red wines tested, red Zinfandel contained the highest levels. Syrah next, followed by Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, which had about the same amount. The white varieties tested, Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay, contained much less. Although Merlot was not analysed in this study, Waterhouse believes it contains significant amounts of saponins at levels comparable to the other red wines.

While resveratrol is thought to block cholesterol oxidation by its antioxidant action, saponins are believed to work by binding to and preventing the absorption of cholesterol. Saponins are known to affect inflammation pathways, an effect that could have implications in heart disease and cancer, according to published studies.

Besides wine, other foods containing significant amounts of saponins include olive oil and soybeans.For the most part, saponins make up the waxy coating of these plants, where they function primarily for protection.

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