Through the Grapevine

In this multimedia series, we give you the insider's eye on Indiana wines. Tune in each Tuesday for a snobbery-free exploration of a host of viticulture and enology topics.

​​​​​Week 7: A Drink to Your Health

By Natalie van Hoose

Though wine has been used medicinally for more than four millennia, researchers have only defined some of the chemical components that make wine healthful in the last few decades.

In the 1990s, the "French Paradox"—the observation that the French have comparatively less incidence of heart disease despite a national diet rich in fat and dairy—prompted the hypothesis that regular, moderate consumption of wine offered significant health benefits. The resulting flurry of studies revealed wine's ability to help protect against cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, while lowering blood pressure and "bad" cholesterol.

Many of these benefits are conferred by polyphenols, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemical components found in the skin and seeds of grapes. While both white and red wine contain polyphenols, red wine has a greater amount because its winemaking process requires longer contact with the grape skins.

The polyphenolic compounds in wine could also be good for your brain. Purdue University professor of food science and nutrition Mario Ferruzzi collaborated with Giulio Pasinetti and Lap Ho from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to provide evidence that the polyphenols in red wine can reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Purdue professor of food science and nutrition Mario Ferruzzi discusses how a moderate consumption of wine can improve blood flow and lower risk for a variety of chronic and degenerative diseases.

Their research showed that moderate consumption of a Cabernet Sauvignon and a muscadine wine may inhibit the development of Alzheimer's disease and memory decline.

Interestingly, the distinct polyphenolic compounds of each wine—one produced from the European grape Vitis vinifera, the other the native American grape Vitis rotundifolia—impacted the brain in different ways. This suggests that consuming a variety of wines and grape products could be a more effective method of preventing Alzheimer's disease than sticking to your favorite Merlot.

But before you hustle to the wine aisle, keep in mind that drinking wine cannot substitute for a healthy lifestyle, and excessive drinking can lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, cancer, and liver and brain damage. To reap the health benefits of wine, you should consume wine on a regular basis and only in moderation. Moderate consumption can be defined as about 16 ounces or less, depending on the individual.

Also, polyphenols and the health advantages they can provide are not exclusive to wine. Foods such as cocoa, strawberries, blueberries, apples and grapes and beverages such as tea and grape juice also contain polyphenols and are excellent alternatives or supplements to wine.

Credits: Video by Kelsey Getzin. Web version by Andrew Banta. Through the Grapevine graphic by Russ Merzdorf.

Next Tuesday: What makes for a bad bottle? Join us next week as we tackle cork taint, oxidation and other wine defects.

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