Maybe bacteria aren't so bad. Research has increasingly found that the trillions of microbes that live in our intestines, collectively known as the gut microbiome, contribute largely to our health and well-being. And in good news for wine lovers, a new study finds that drinking red wine helps keep this community of bacteria healthy and diverse.
The gut microbiome aids in everything from digesting and metabolizing food to moderating our mood to regulating our immune systems. Its efficacy in carrying out these tasks, however, depends largely on its composition and diversity. Intestines with a diversified range of bacteria are better equipped to produce a variety of vitamins, enzymes and other compounds that positively affect our physiology.
Our personal microbiome diversity depends on many factors, including genetics and environment, exposure to disease, drug-use, smoking habits, diet and more. To better understand microbiome health, researchers from the Netherlands' University of Groningen took a closer look at the relationship between these factors and the prevalence of beneficial and diverse bacteria in our guts.
"Gut microbiome is linked to many human diseases, such as inflammatory diseases of the gut, obesity and metabolic syndrome, immune-mediated diseases and others," the study's lead author, Alexandra Zhernakova, told Wine Spectator. "Many environmental factors influence gut microbiome composition, and so far we had limited knowledge on them. It is particularly important to understand the variations of gut microbiome in healthy populations."
Zhernakova and her team hoped that by studying the microbiomes of healthy subjects, they can draw links between the microbiome and certain diseases and learn how to manipulate the microbiome to help people with those afflictions. Their findings were published in the journal Science.
The researchers collected fecal samples from 1,135 healthy Dutch participants in the larger LifeLines-DEEP study and tested the samples for various bacteria, proteins and other compounds. They compared their findings with over 200 previously recorded factors about the participants that could potentially affect a person's microbial community, such as smoking habits, antibiotic use, incidence of irritable bowel syndrome, typical diet and more. They found that 126 of these factors directly influence microbiome composition and diversity.
Of the dietary factors, the researchers found strong correlations between a healthy gut and certain foods and drinks. "Fruits, vegetables, coffee, yogurt, buttermilk and red wine were correlated with increased diversity," said Zhernakova. "Whereas soda drinks and high amounts of carbohydrates were correlated with lower diversity." Full-fat milk drinkers also saw lower levels of biotic diversity.
The researchers found considerable evidence of a relationship between microbiome composition and alcohol, but the nuances are not completely understood. "It is more an observation that alcohol products influence the abundance and proportion of various bacteria," said Zhernakova. Red wine showed a significant correlation with diversified intestinal bacteria whereas white and rosé did not. Because coffee and tea also showed increased microbiotic effects, the researchers believe that polyphenols, which are found in red wines, tea, coffee, cacao and other foods, may be responsible for the association.
They also found red wine consumption to be correlated with the organism Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, which has anti-inflammatory properties. The presence of this bacterium may help prevent inflammatory bowel disease.
Zhernakova and her colleagues' discoveries are the first steps in decoding the relationship between diet and gut microbacteria. "We hope the public will get a better understanding of foods that increase your diversity versus those that lower it," she said. "A less diverse [gut microbiome], in general, is less beneficial." So for now, keep drinking your red wine and coffee. Your gut will thank you.