One of the main ways the body ages or degenerates is by oxidation, the same process that causes rusting. That is why there is great interest in antioxidants of various types, because antioxidants are naturally occurring substances that retard or slow down this deterioration by oxidation. The standard benchmark antioxidants that humans take are Vitamins C and E, but they only reduce oxidation by up to 20%. Other organic compounds such as amines (nitrogen containing organic compounds derived from ammonia) and phenols (a group of organic compounds which contain hydroxyl or OH attached to a carbon atom in a ring of carbon atoms) also act as antioxidants. The main antioxidants in wine are epicatechin, quercitin and more importantly the polyphenol resveratrol. These are nature’s most potent antioxidants because they can reduce oxidation by up to 100% i.e. stop it altogether as shown by Dr. Frankel at the University of California at Davis in California. They occur mainly in the grape skin to protect it from external diseases such as fungus during a very moist vintage.
The human body uses many complex biochemical pathways and reactions to function; but these reactions result in waste products such as free radicals (molecular compounds that contain an extra unpaired electron). These free radicals are the body’s terrorists and cause biological havoc which help contribute to degenerative ongoing diseases such as cancer, dementia, diabetes, vascular disease (heart attack and stroke), macular degeneration (commonest cause of blindness in people over 65) and arthritis. The fermentation process, in making wine, produces alcohol and liberates these antioxidants from the grape skin, which, through our consumption of wine can help block the effect of these free radicals. Thus there are many times more antioxidants in wine compared to grape juice; plus the alcohol, which also has health benefits if consumed in moderation, resulting in a reduction in the death rate for humans by up to 40% for those who consume wine in moderation daily. It is not surprising then to learn that Resveratrol is the first compound known “that has extended the lifespan of every organism given it” according to Professor David Sinclair, a Resveratrol researcher at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
The best way to treat disease is to not get it in the first place hence the move away from treating disease to preventing disease. The Holy Grail of wine researchers and oenotherapy (wine therapy) is to produce a resveratrol enhanced or enriched wine, without gustative defects, in the hope that it’s consumption could enhance wine’s already valuable contribution to disease prevention, and heart disease especially.
Phil Norrie is a member of AIM’s social, scientific and medical council, a general practitioner in Australia and a winery owner.