Scientists have discovered another potential cancer-inhibiting property of red wine – and this time it is activated by oak.

Researchers have found that red wine stored in oak barrels extracts a substance called vescalagin from the oak, Scientific American magazine reports.

When vescalagin reacts with the flavonoids catechin and epicatechin, which are both present in red wine, a compound called acutissimin A can be formed.

Acutissimin A and its sister compound Acutissimin B (which has also been found in red wine kept in oak) have antitumor properties. They inhibit the enzyme DNA topoisomerase II, which is known to be a cause of cancer.

The scientists – Stéphane Quideau of the European Institute of Chemistry and Biology in France, and his colleagues – found in studies that Acutissimin A was 250 times more powerful than a current clinically used cancer drug called etoposide.

But they stressed it was important to understand red wine could not be considered a cancer preventative.

Polyphenol molecules, known for their antioxident activity, and present in red wine, are responsible for many of its health-giving properties, scientists have found over the past decade. A compound called resveratol inhibits a protein which protects cancer cells from the body’s immune system, and in Swindon, UK, a leading cardiologist prescribes two glasses of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon a day to heart attack patients.

The favonoids in the wine keep the arteries clear. Statistics at that hospital show red wine reduces the risk of a second heart attack by 50%.

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Written by Adam Lechmere, and agencies