Signs That Red
Wine May Cut Cholesterol
Scientists have found another group
of chemicals that may be responsible for red wine's cholesterol-lowering
But don't plan a visit to the Napa
Valley just yet, some experts say.
"It's always of interest to
find naturally occurring compounds to decrease cholesterol levels,
but one needs to keep it in context," says Alice H. Lichtenstein,
Gershoff Professor of Nutrition at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston.
The evidence supporting the new
chemicals' worth is inconclusive, she explains.
Previous research has already shown
an association between red wine and decreased incidence of heart
disease. But much of the effect has so far been attributed to
a molecule called resveratrol.
The new compounds, called saponins,
have already been found in other foods, such as soy beans and
peas, and are also thought to come from the skin of grapes, say
the researchers, from the University of California, Davis.
They presented their findings Sept.
8 at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in
New York City.
For the study, the scientists compared
the saponin content of six types of California wines -- four red
and two white. They found red wine contains three to 10 times
as much saponin as white wine. Red zinfandel topped the chart,
followed by syrah, then pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. (These
last two had about the same amount of saponin. Merlot was not
tested, but the researchers think it also has high saponin levels.)
The researchers also found that
the higher the alcohol content, the higher the saponin levels.
Resveratrol, an antioxidant, is
believed to act by blocking cholesterol oxidation. Scientists
reporting in the August issue of Nature found a class of
chemicals that includes resveratrol extended lifespan by 70 percent
in yeast, worms and fruit flies.
Saponins are thought to work by
preventing the absorption of cholesterol into the body.
Even if saponins do have an effect
on cholesterol, the American Heart Association points out that
alcohol and wine can have negative health effects, namely increasing
triglyceride levels, raising blood pressure and providing extra
calories that can contribute to obesity.
So take this wine news with a grain
"There are a number of naturally
appearing compounds that can lower cholesterol levels but one
needs to take into consideration how much a person is likely to
get from normal consumption, and I don't have a good idea of the
cholesterol response," Lichtenstein says. "It's unclear
what the actual response is going to be in someone."
The American Heart Association
has more on cholesterol
wine and cardiovascular disease.
Reference Source 101