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The Health Centre

Red Wine and Cholesterol


red wineIf you enjoy sharing a glass of a nice red wine with friends and family, you may be working on reducing your cholesterol while you're relaxing. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, think that a group of chemicals in red wine, called saponins, are linked to the ability to lower cholesterol.


If you have been following the discussions on the French Paradox you are already familiar with the link between red wine and reduced risk of heart disease. It seems that the French eat those delicious creamy pastries; cheese is a whole course at dinner; and a buttery croissant... sometimes with butter, perhaps with a bit of cheese or meat sausage, is a regular breakfast item. Yet it seems that folks who grow up in France tend to have less clogged arteries and are less obese than Americans or Brits. For years this has been attributed to red wines' health benefits specifically the compounds catechins and resveratrol, called polyphenols, found in red wine. These chemicals also have antioxidant or anticancer properties.


Andrew Waterhouse, Ph.D., Professor of Enology at UC Davis, an expert in wine chemistry, says that saponins are being found in an increasing number of foods and their presence in wine adds to the mounting evidence that red wine really may make a difference in lowering your cholesterol.


"Saponins are a hot new food ingredient. People are just starting to pay attention to it," says Waterhouse. It seems that red wine contains about three to ten times as much saponin as white. This is probably because the saponins are found in the skins of the grapes and red wines have longer contact with their skins in the fermentation process.


The tests showed that the Red Zinfandel has the highest levels of saponins followed by Syrah. Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon had about the same amount. No other red wines were tested, but scientists believe that most red wines contain significant amounts of this chemical.


The red Zinfandel that contained the highest level of saponins among all the wines tested also had the highest level of alcohol, at 16 percent. "We think that alcohol may make the saponins more soluble in wine, but follow up studies are needed," says Waterhouse.


Red wines contain about the same amount of resveratrol and saponin. Resveratrol is thought to block cholesterol oxidation by its antioxidant action and saponins are believed to work by binding to and preventing the absorption of cholesterol.


Saponins have been found in many other foods including olive oil and soybeans. The desert plants such as the Yucca and Quillaja have even higher levels of this beneficial chemical. Studies have shown that saponins affect inflammation pathways. This is exciting news since it could have implications in heart disease and cancer. Scientist's are busy trying to discover all of the potential benefits of red wine while they caution that these results do not apply to anyone who drinks to excess. Drinking a glass of wine can be good for you, but drinking more has its own health effects that can more than counteract the benefits in wine.


Source: American Chemical Society - 2003





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