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Is Red Wine a Prebiotic?

Is Red Wine a Prebiotic?: Main Image
Red wine polyphenols promoted the growth of probiotic bacteria

Drinking red wine might help "friendly" bacteria thrive in the colon, making it a newcomer to the category of health-promoting substances called prebiotics.

Red wine is rich in polyphenols--plant-derived compounds that act as antioxidants in the body, counteracting the damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. Polyphenols may play a role in preventing many chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. A large percentage of dietary polyphenols survive most of the digestive process, making it to the large intestine (colon) virtually unchanged. Here, they are believed interact with the local "gut bugs."

A new role for an old drink

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, to see if red wine polyphenols influenced the types of bacteria in the colon, a team of Spanish researchers compared the effects of red wine, dealcoholized red wine, and gin on the composition of intestinal bacteria found in ten healthy men (average age 48).

The study consisted of three, 20-day periods, during which the men drank 272 ml of red wine, 272 ml of dealcoholized red wine, or 100 ml of gin per day.

Before beginning, and again after each study period, the men's stool was tested for the presence of several different bacterial strains. Their blood pressure was also measured throughout the study, and tests were run to look at levels of blood fats and inflammatory markers after each test period.

  • Red wine led to significantly lower blood pressure, triglycerides, HDL ("good") cholesterol, total cholesterol, and inflammatory markers.
  • Dealcoholized red wine also significantly lowered blood pressure, triglycerides, HDL ("good") cholesterol, and inflammatory markers.
  • Red wine seemed to inhibit the growth of a group of bacteria (Clostridium) associated with colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Red wine polyphenols promoted the growth of probiotic bacteria, like bifidobacteria.

"Although further research is required, the results of this study suggest the possible prebiotic benefits associated with the inclusion of red wine polyphenols in the diet," the team concluded.

Get your good bugs here

Optimal digestion is one of the cornerstones of health and immunity. Here are some tips for keeping your insides in tip-top shape:

  • Round up the probiotics. Different probiotics have different actions in the body; some help protect against travelers' diarrhea, while others may keep you from getting colds as often. Make sure you get a full array of probiotic bacteria by eating foods that are naturally high in them (like yogurt and kefir) and possibly taking a probiotic supplement.
  • Remember the prebiotics. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are the most widely studied prebiotics. These indigestible plant carbohydrates provide fuel for the probiotics to thrive on. While the new study suggests that red wine might be another good source of prebiotics, it's still best to enjoy alcohol in moderation--no more than one drink per day.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:1323-34)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation's premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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