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Red wine is good for the gut and figure – but you only need it occasionally

New study from King's College London suggests that red wine drinkers are less likely to be overweight or have excess cholesterol, but the National Health Service has urged caution in response.

Scottish bacteriologist and Nobel Prize winner Alexander Fleming changed the world with his discovery of penicillin, but also possessed great common sense.

‘Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy,’ he opined. But, little did he know that wine can have health benefits, too.

Researchers from King’s College London have found that wine – specifically red wine – could be good for the health of the gut, increasing the number and variety of useful bacteria that can live there.

The study has found that red wine drinkers, rather than lovers of white wine, beer or spirits, are less likely to be overweight or have excess cholesterol, as the benefit comes from polyphenols found in the skin of red grapes.

These polyphenols are micronutrients and are believed to act as fuel for the useful microbes living inside the gut.

Too good to be true?

Health officials urged caution, highlighting that the study relied on self-reported drinking habits and that other lifestyle factors may have influenced the results.

Even if the study’s findings are confirmed, one glass of red wine every two weeks might be enough to get the benefits, said the UK’s National Health Service. ‘Like many “too good to be true” headlines, the story is more complicated,’ it said.

Dr Caroline Le Roy, one of the Kings College London researchers, said, ‘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.’

She added, ‘You do not need to drink every day and it is still advised to consume alcohol with moderation. This is an observational study so we cannot prove that the effect we see is caused by red wine.’

More about the study

The research was published in the scientific journal Gastroenterology and studied nearly 3,000 people living in the UK, America and The Netherlands.

Participants were twins who were quizzed about their diet and drinking habits, and it was found that the gut microbiota of red wine drinkers was more diverse than that of non-red wine drinkers.

As the study progressed the gut bacteria diversity increased among those who consumed red wine, although it found that occasional drinking – one glass a week or fortnight – appeared to be sufficient.

‘This is one of the largest ever studies to explore the effects of red wine in the guts of nearly three thousand people in three different countries and provides insights that the high levels of polyphenols in the grape skin could be responsible for much of the controversial health benefits when used in moderation,’ said lead author professor Tim Spector.

Further work needed

A follow-up study looking at the effects on gut health and cholesterol of red wine, red grape juice and no alcohol is being considered.

‘We are starting to know more and more about gut bacteria. It is complex, and we need more research, but we know that the more diversity there is, the better it appears to be for our health,’ said Dr Le Roy.

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