Red wine a probiotic?

By now you’ve heard about the heart health benefits of red wine. These effects are so well-known that California wine growers have petitioned the FDA to add a label to their bottles stating, “Consult with your physician about the benefits of moderate red wine consumption.”

Of course, as usual, scientists inevitably want to know HOW red wine boosts heart health. And, for years, researchers have been looking for the magic bullet “antioxidant” or other single ingredient to explain red wine’s benefits. I have always suggested that they’re missing the forest for the trees (or the vineyard for the grapevines), so to speak.

I’ve always believed red wine’s health benefits come from the stress-reducing properties of moderate alcohol itself. After all, stress is the main cause of high blood pressure. And high blood pressure is the main cause of heart disease.

Now, another new study (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) has attempted to sort out some of these questions.

It was a small but thorough study on 10 middle-aged men.1 The researchers designed it as a cross-over trial so that each participant acted as his own control. The men were given red wine, de-alcoholized red wine (DRW ), or gin, then “washed out” and given one of the other two drinks for 20 days.

The researchers were looking for effects on various measures of fat metabolism. And they found…


But they did think to sample the microflora of the intestines. And, as it turned out, red wine increased the amount of probiotic Bifidobacterium and Prevotella in the gut. Which, in turn, led to lower levels of a certain type of fat that makes up the cell walls of bacteria (lipopolysaccharide).

These results suggest that red wine effects bacterial probiotic growth and bacterial fat metabolism (versus human fat metabolism).

Like NIH, the universal funders, these authors remain fixated on the role of fats in heart disease—they’re just shifting gears from dietary fats to bacterial fats (what is now being called some supposedly new concept of “endotoxemia”).

As I explained in the article on “detox” products in the February issue, the concept of “auto-intoxication” (essentially the same thing as “endotoxemia”) is nothing new. It has been extensively discussed since the early 1800s. What is interesting in this study was that red wine had an effect on probiotic bacteria, but de-alcoholinized red wine (DRW) did not. And of course we have known for a long time that alcohol has a profound effect on bacteria as an antiseptic.

So whatever complex mechanisms researchers pursue, I am still betting on the moderate alcohol itself as a major “active” beneficial ingredient in red wine when it comes to heart disease.


1. “Effect of acute and chronic red wine consumption on lipopolysaccharide concentrations,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013; 97(5): 1,053-1,061