Moderate consumption of wine may be able to improve cognitive function via pathways from the gut, according to a recent study published in the May of 2017 edition of Frontiers of Nutrition. The study showed that consuming low to moderate levels of red wine delayed the onset of neurodegenerative disease, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. This study is the first of its kind to show that wine compounds are protective against neuronal death by first passing through the digestive tract.
Instead of concentrating directly on wine, the authors of the study focused on the compounds left over after the wine passed through the gut, which is known as wine-derived human gut metabolites. Researchers collected samples of the metabolites from samples of participant’s feces and urine. Then, to explore their neuronal effect, researchers added the samples to human cells that were placed in stressful situations that would typically lead to cell death or dysfunction, which are related to the early stages of many neurodegenerative diseases.
Results indicated that the metabolites protected the cells from stressful situations that would otherwise cause them to become injured or die off. The most interesting result of the study was that the metabolites were active at different points during cell signaling, meaning that the exact composition of the wine metabolites are crucial for protecting brain cells, and the breakdown begins in the gut. A person’s gut microbiome and their intestinal flora decide how the wine is broken down into subsequent metabolites. Any alteration in their breakdown can be the difference between protective and non-protective effects.
According to study author Dr. Esteban-Fernández of the Institute of Food Science Research in Madrid, “In other words, differences in our gut microbiota are leading to the different metabolites, which underpin the idea that humans benefit from food in different ways. This individual difference is a factor not to be neglected to understand the health effects of certain foods. We are now in need to advance our understanding of the effect of diet in the promotion of normal brain function."
For a person to see these benefits, their gut microbiome must be healthy. The best way to do that is by eating a healthy diet. Esteban-Fernández explains: It is very important to understand that certain food compounds are responsible for this health benefit in protecting against the onset of neurodegenerative diseases; no medication was involved. I want to raise more awareness how the diet is helping to prevent diseases or reduces the risk of getting sick. It is more than feasible to go to the supermarket and buy vegetables and fruit: it depends only on the individuals to maintain a balanced diet."
It should be noted that while experts still advise against drinking copious amounts of wine, this study was designed to show how moderate levels can be beneficial to both the brain and the gut. The brain and gut work together to prevent disease through a communication pathway that experts refer to as the "brain-gut connection." Eating a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined whole grains that are high in fiber is the best way to create a healthy relationship. Women should aim for two to three glasses of red wine per week while men are advised to drink no more than five.