Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine
It was Dr Serge Renaud who popularised the term “French Paradox” in 1992. The French eat more saturated fats than many other western nations, yet have a lower rate of heart disease. The attractive concept that wine could reverse the effects of a fatty diet has been the justification of many who enjoy a wine.
Red vs white
So begat to ongoing discussion of why wine may offer some health benefits. Was it the alcohol or the antioxidants? Could it even be that wine lovers were fitter and more likely to embrace moderation, or was it a quirk of statistics because French wine lovers were more likely to die of alcohol-related cancers or in car accidents, so it made sense that fewer got around to dying of heart disease?
Like all the big questions in health, the answer lies in a myriad of possibilities, and the distillation of the data usually suggests that some alcohol is better than none or lots. There is broad agreement that 1-2 standard drinks a day, no more, has life-enhancing prospects. (Note: I will always say that, even if the evidence changes).
An argument for white wine
Grape skin is included in the production of red wine, contributing to its resveratrol content and other antioxidants linked a reduction in heart disease. Even though white wine doesn’t have resveratrol (as no grape skin is included in the wine making), there may be other components in white wine that protects the heart. There is increasing evidence that tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol, both found in white wine (and in good olive oil), have an equally important role in protecting the heart.
A joint Italian and US study revealed what every white wine lover hoped. Researchers gave red and white wines to appreciative laboratory animals and found that both wines reduced the oxidative stress in the heart and lowered the inflammatory response. Here, I need to say that heart disease is an inflammatory disease causing atherosclerosis; it is not a build up of fat. Saturated fat, which raises LDL-cholesterol and cigarette smoke trigger the inflammatory response in the arteries, leading to artery narrowing and heart disease.
Both tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol seem to stop oxidation of LDL-cholesterol (the nasty cholesterol), stop platelet aggregation (nerdy term for blood clots that lodge in narrowed arteries), and reduce the inflammatory response leading to bad arteries. Anyway, the good news is that white wine seems to be protecting the heart in a similar fashion to red wine, using different compounds.
What does it all mean?
Enjoy the wine you enjoy. Red or white. Modest amounts. What may be of more critical importance to your health is the quality of the company you are with at the time of drinking.
Reference: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2008; 56: 9362-9373