Article By: Harvey Finkel, MD
“What” you say, “isn’t it red wine that’s healthy?”
“Probably a vinomedical boondoggle,” you think.
Well, let’s not forget that although white wines in general contain far lesser quantities of the vaunted polphenolic antioxidants than do reds, they contain more than most other potables, and their alcohol likely provides at least half of the health benefits derived from moderate drinking.
I recall very few scientific studies in the past touting the salubrity of white wine. In 1994, Bierenbaum, et al., were outliers in reporting in clinical research greater health benefits for white wine than for red. In 1996 in the american journal of clinical nutrition and in 2001 in the journal of agricultural and food chemistry, respectively, Caldú, et al., and Fuhrman, et al., demonstrated that polyphenol-rich white wine could be produced by incorporating a short period of skin contact into the winemaking process. The resultant white wine’s antioxidant characteristics were similar to those of red wine. This certainly makes sense, for the major source of the polyphenols are the grape skins, which in making red wines are kept in contact with the fermenting must, but in whites are quickly separated. Keeping the skins on board in making white wines, however, raises the risks of vinous misfortune.
But there may be more to the healthfulness of white wine than heretofore suspected, as presented at the Verona congress. A team of international researchers at the Molecular Cardiology and Angiogenesis Laboratory of the University of Connecticut, including one member from the University of Milan, reported that white wine (Soave) fed to laboratory animals protects them from the damage of heart attacks by reducing the area affected, decreasing signs of structural change and preserving cardiac function.
Evidence suggests that several small molecules of the wine, unrelated to antioxidants, alcohol or procyanidins, enter cardiac cell nuclei as messengers to modulate DNA, thereby inhibiting the apoptosis (programmed cell death or, more dramatically termed, cell suicide) set going by the interruption of blood supply that caused the heart attack. As one of the team puts it, the wine components convince the heart-muscle cells “to survive and continue to function”. This mechanism may be similar to that activated by regular physical activity.
Another group from the University of Connecticut, this one working at the Cardiovascular Research Center, added to our regard for white wine’s cardiac benefits. They showed that mitochondria, the dynamos of cells, are better protected by white than by red wine in laboratory animals after suffering a heart attack, resulting in less oxidative damage and better maintenance of normal structure. They believe that the two substances of white wine that facilitate cardiac recovery – tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol – “can offer the same level of cardioprotection as reds containing resveratrol”. These two compounds, effective antioxidants, are not found in grapes, but develop during fermentation. They are monophenols. Being small molecules, they can take part in chemical reactions from which polyphenols may be excluded, such as those involved in strengthening tissue or healing after a heart attack.
This all needs to be confirmed, but if it is, it adds still another layer of complexity to the health attributes of moderate wine consumption, which would have to include alcohol, polyphenolic antioxidants, such as resveratrol, Corder’s procyanidin inhibitor of endothelin-1 production, and these factors in white wine.