Five reasons why wine is good for your gut health

It’s not just us wine lovers who ask: ‘is wine good for your gut health?’

Nearly every major physician in history seems to have positive things to say about wine and our health. Take the French scientist Louis Pasteur. He said: “Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”

Pasteur is best remembered for the ‘pasteurisation’ process of preventing contamination in milk and cheeses by heating them up first. But Pasteur actually first discovered the process while fighting diseases that caused wine to spoil (of course it was wine).

His study on micro-organisms in wine then led to the realisation these also infect animals and humans, causing disease.

At UMAMU Estate we believe that wine is best enjoyed when shared – and even better when shared with food. Below we look at five reasons why wine is good for your gut health.

Is wine good for gut health?

1. Wine is good for diversity of the intestinal microbiome

An important study was published in the Gastroenterology journal in January 2020 claiming that wine increases gut health. It was quickly picked up by Decanter, the BBC and much of the world’s media.

The finding was this: wine increases the biodiversity of the intestinal microbiome. According to the author of the study, Dr Caroline Le Roy, this was perhaps the reason for wine’s association with being good for your health.

Le Roy said: “While we have long known of the unexplained benefits of red wine on heart health, this study shows that moderate red wine consumption is associated with greater diversity and a healthier gut microbiota.”

More diverse gut microbiota were associated with increased cholesterol metabolism, improved cardiovascular health, healthier hearts, reduced weight gain, reduced depression and better overall gut health.

The most interesting finding was how drinking wine rarely – even once every two weeks – was enough to improve gut health.

But Le Roy was clear about what kind of wine you should drink: “If you must choose one alcoholic drink today, red wine is the one to pick.”

The reason why is red wine’s high concentrations of polyphenols, which we explore below.

2. Red wine has higher polyphenols than any other alcoholic drink

Red wine production typically includes the skin of harvested grapes, rather with white wine where skins are typically discarded instantly. (Rose wines like our Margaret River rose at the UMAMU Estate often let grape juice sit with skins for longer.)

The skins of grapes are where all the polyphenols are. According to the study Polyphenols are medicine: is it time to prescribe red wine for our patients? red wine typically has 200mg of polyphenols in comparison with 30mg in white wine, and none in spirits.

What are polyphenols?

Polyphenols are components of wine which include flavinoids, antioxidants, tannins and more. They are responsible for wine’s bitterness, astringency, colour and aromas. Polyphenols are the wine’s main preservative and in red wine are potent enough to reverse the typically oxidative effects of alcohol on the body.

The study mentioned in reason 1 above described these polyphenols as being the reason why wine is good for your health.

Polyphenols are also behind the so-called ‘world’s most healthiest wine’ which is produced and patented in Australia. This wine is produced by Dr Norrie who produces wines with higher concentrations of the polyphenol resveratrol about 100mg/l compared to the standard 3-6mg/l.

Dr Norrie explains that polyphenols like resveratrol occur in the grape skin to protect it from external diseases ‘like fungus during a moist vintage’. He says the fermentation process in winemaking helps to ‘liberate these antioxidants’ from the grape skin and hence make wine better for gut health than grape juice.

3. Red wine helps digestion

To understand the role of polyphenols (like the antioxidant resveratrol) it’s worth noting their enemy: oxygen free radicals.

Dr Norrie calls these the ‘terrorists’ of the body which cause disease. According to Katherine Tallmadge from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, these free radicals are also released by the body during the digestion process.

She says: “While the body is digesting food. The nutrients in the wine – those polyphenols – help minimise the damage that oxidation can do, or maybe even eliminate it. It counteracts the negatives of the digestion process.”

Wine Spectator lists numerous studies which look at what this means in practice:

  • A 2013 study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that pairing turkey cutlets with red wine prevented the increase of malondialdehyde, a free radical molecule associated with oxidative stress, in human blood plasma.
  • A 2013 study in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology found that participants who drank red wine while eating French fries and pork sausages saw lower levels of inflammation in their blood vessels than those who drank other beverages.
  • A 2010 study in the British Medical Journal showed that drinking white wine with cheese fondue was more effective in aiding digestion than drinking tea with the same meal.
  • A 2009 study in Portugal found that polyphenols in red wine trigger the release of nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes the stomach wall, and aids digestion and gut health.
  • A 2008 study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry found that red wine helps the stomach remove harmful substances found in red meats (and fried and processed foods) called lipid hydroperoxides and malonaldehydes, which are released naturally during digestion.

4. Red wines boosts probiotics like bifidobacterium

Another reason why polyphenols and wine are good for your gut health is the effect on specific bacteria.

For example, a 2012 study on polyphenols by southern Spanish researchers found that daily consumption of red wine for four weeks ‘significantly’ increased bifidobacteria in the gut. The researchers found that red wine had ‘prebiotic benefits’ which also helped reduce blood pressures and cholesterol concentrations in the body.

According to WebMD, bifidobacteria are probiotics or ‘good bacteria’ which live in the intestines.

Bifidobacteria are believed to help with intestinal disorders, as well as their dayjob of breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and fighting off ‘bad’ bacteria that cause disease.

The contribution of ‘good’ bacteria like this are also believed to be responsible for why wine has typically been drunk to enhance digestion for thousands of years. This theory was put to the test by researchers at the University of California, who gave Zinfandel wine to participants and measures their uptake of nutrients.

The results found the Zinfandel significantly boosted uptake of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc compared with a control solution.

The Australian ‘wine doctor’ Dr Norrie also believes that wine is more commonly drunk with a meal – compared to spirits or alcohol drunk on an empty stomach – due to wine being good for gut health. This makes wine even more beneficial as blood alcohol levels are reduced when wine is ‘sipped slowly’ over a long period of time accompanying a meal.

Dr Norrie cites a study from the Copenhagen City Heart Study which looked at 19,220 participants starting in 1976 and found that ‘low to moderate intake of wine’ was associated with up to 50% reduced mortality rates from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.

In comparison, spirits increased the risk of mortality by 34% while beer drinking had no effect.

5. Red wine helps to eliminate pathogens and food poisoning

According to Randy Worobo from Cornell University, red wine has one more aspect that makes it good for your gut health: combating food poisoning.

Randy tells Wine Spectator: "What happens with the foodborne pathogens is that they go into your gastrointestinal tract and in your stomach, and it's an extremely acidic environment thanks to wine consumption.”

“The acidic environment in the stomach, combined with the alcohol – it’s like a double whammy. It’s two hits that inactivate the pathogens.”

Conclusion: Is wine good for gut health?

So there you have it!

We hope you enjoyed reading our five reasons why wine is good for your gut health.

Of course, everything in moderation. While there's a surprising amount of science confirming that red wine is good for gut health, overconsumption can lead to cirrhosis of the liver as well as other complications.

If you’re looking to enjoy the health benefits of red wine specifically for your gut, visit our award-winning range of Margaret River wines.

Our sustainable approach to viticulture combined with a passion to let nature do the talking in our vintages ensures UMAMU Estate wines are full of polyphenols, antioxidants and all the stuff that makes wine good for your gut health.