jamie goode's wine blog: More on wine antioxidants

Friday, December 01, 2006

More on wine antioxidants

Just thought I should expand a bit on my post on the new Red Heart wine. The wine in question is a Petit Verdot/Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia, bottled in Northants (UK) by Corby for Buckingham Vintners.

The label states that:
'Antioxidants can help inhibit free radicals that occur naturally in your body. Free radicals can damage your health, so a wine that's naturally high in antioxidants has got to be great news!'
This statement cleverly avoids making the claim that the antioxidants in this wine will protect you against free radical oxidative damage to the tissues of your body, but this is implied. Let me make the following points:
  • All the big epidemiological studies (where medics look at the health of populations) show that moderate drinkers live longer. Some studies show that wine drinkers are healthier than beer or spirit drinkers. Some of this could be confounding (for example, there might be some other shared characteristic of moderate drinkers or wine drinkers that makes them a more healthy group). But the effect looks pretty robust.

  • Many mechanisms have been proposed for how wine (or other alcoholic drinks) might have health-enhancing effects. One of these is that wine, and in particular red wine, contains a group of compounds known as polyphenols, which have anti-oxidant properties. Although we need oxygen, itís actually quite a toxic molecule, and a group of chemicals known as reactive oxygen species cause damage to our body tissues (although they also have a role in fighting microbes). We have various antioxidant defences in our tissues which minimizes the impact of these bad dude chemicals. Damage still occurs, though. So the idea that red wine polyphenols could be enhancing antioxidant protection is a seductive one.

  • Thereís a problem, though. Dietary antioxidants donít seem to work as antioxidants in the body in the same way that they do in the test-tube. The emerging story is that it is increasingly unlikely that any of wineís health benefits come from the antioxidant effects of polyphenols.

  • It looks like polyphenols may still have a protective effect, but not as antioxidants. One possible mechanism is through their effect in suppressing a molecule called endothelin 1, which would then have a positive effect on arteries and blood vessels. Quite a bit more work needs to be done before we can be sure of this.

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At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Doug said...

Re Red Heart...

You're right to question the scientific claims, but why should we be surprised? Advertising, after all, is lying with a small-print disclaimer. By using the subjunctive mood advertisers are not tied to their claims: it's a form of verbal prestidigitation. The really dubious claim made for Red Heart is made in the second half of the following paragraph.

"The antioxidant content of red wine is believed to play a role in the health benefits derived from drinking in moderation. Red Heart has an antioxidant level, which is 32% higher than the average level of other leading red wines.

Where does that statistic come from? Measured against what average level of which leading wines? The argument, or claim - such as it is - is also spookily illogical. It suggests that if you believe that antioxidants are good for our health and that wine has antioxidants, our wine - Red Heart - has more antioxidants than other wine, therefore if you drink it (in moderation) you will probably get some beneficial effect from it. Ifs, buts, maybes and, of course, completely unverifiable, but why spend so much branding something so tenuous?

At 6:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well actually it isn't entirely unmeasurable..in fact, a very nice machine, a gas chromatograph/mass spectrophotometer, can quantify just about chemical that you can develop a standard curve for.

We have recently begun performing Anti-oxidant testing on wines for the major ones..Reseveratrol, Catechins, Quercetin, etc. and found that it is entirely feasible to have as much as a 30-50% variance in the anti-oxidant content of the wine..specifically the most interesting anti-oxidant--Resveratrol.

The data we have indicate that conditions such as soil organic content, type of pressing, time of harvest, and age of vines can all have an impact on the anti-oxidant content of the wine.

We are actually beginning to offer this service to vitners just this season, as they are beginning to take note of this potential marketing opportunity.

While it is true the FDA (US) won't allow a vitner to say that red wine is good for your health, even a slight increase in market share may be worth the anti-oxidant test cost and a few extra lines on a label. At least that is how I see it.


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At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The emerging story is that it is increasingly unlikely that any of wineís health benefits come from the antioxidant effects of polyphenols."

Jamie, the truth is research is still ongoing and it is untrue to state the quote you did above.
There is no evidence or proof to show that the antioxidant effect of polyphenols do not benefit human health.

So whilst I agree with the general crux of your argument about making unproven claims, it would also be wise not to make counter claims which are also unproven.


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