- Researchers at King's College London found nearly 3,000 people in three countries who drink red wine had more diverse gut microbiota than those who don't — or who drink white wine, beer or spirits. The study was published in the journal Gastroenterology.
- The study also found an association between red wine consumption and lower levels of obesity and LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, the so-called "bad" cholesterol. The researchers attributed these associations to the high levels of polyphenols in grape skins, which include antioxidants and help fuel microbes in the digestive system.
- The positive impacts could be acquired by drinking red wine once every two weeks, lead author Caroline Le Roy said in a release. "If you must choose one alcoholic drink today, red wine is the one to pick as it seems to potentially exert a beneficial effect on you and your gut microbes, which in turn may also help weight and risk of heart disease. However, it is still advised to consume alcohol with moderation," she said.
The King's College London study linking red wine to better gut health helps make a connection that has so far been difficult because of the many phenolic compounds in red wine. Researchers noted this is one of the largest studies ever to examine the correlation, so the results may be more convincing.
Red wine has long had a relative health halo in the alcohol segment, in part because of studies showing its benefits to heart health. Moderate red wine consumption has also been associated with prolonging life and protecting against heart disease, diabetes and other ailments.
This remains a complex area of scientific study, and some research results have been disappointing or contradictory. Exactly how the components in red wine grapes enhance human health — either in beverage form or as seeds or juice — remains a mystery that continues to elude scientists.
Meanwhile, critics are advocating health warnings on alcohol linking its consumption with cancer and other health problems. The Consumer Federation of America recently pointed to research estimating alcohol is the third-largest contributor to cancer in women and the fourth in men. The group also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has questioned claims that moderate alcohol consumption conveys health benefits.
Despite the ongoing debate over the impacts of alcohol, gut health is an important selling point for consumers, whether the claim appears on foods or beverages. A study from Kerry found 65% of consumers look for functional benefits from their food and drink. The U.S. market for functional products is projected to increase at an 8% compound annual growth rate through the end of 2021, according to Technavio.
In response, more food products are including healthy bacteria on their ingredient lists, including Danone's Activia yogurt brand with probiotics and Kellogg's Hi Happy Inside cereal incorporating both prebiotics and probiotics. Many other products today feature the microorganisms, including juices, confectionery items, baked goods, and even coffee, salt and ice cream.
While there may never be a probiotic red wine as such landing on store shelves, the wine industry may want to tout the results of the U.K. study to boost consumer interest — although drinking red wine only every two weeks to potentially benefit gut health may not be what they have in mind. And grape growers, wineries, distributors and retailers can cite positive research as it develops in their marketing and advertising to bring more awareness to red wine and possibly give it a competitive edge over other alcoholic drinks.