Here's some health news that's easy to stomach: Wine, especially red, is positively associated with increased biodiversity in the microbiota of your gut, according to a new study. What does that mean for wine drinkers? Well, it's a helping hand in staying healthy, perhaps promoting a higher metabolism and assisting diet efforts.
The study, published last week in the journal Gastroenterology, was conducted by a team of researchers at King's College London and the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology in Belgium. Their goal was to investigate the effect of moderate consumption of various alcohols on gut microbiome diversity.
Research increasingly suggests that the trillions of microbes that live in our digestive tract, collectively known as the gut microbiome, contribute significantly to our well-being. The gut microbiome aids in everything from digesting and metabolizing food, to moderating our mood, to regulating our immune system. Intestines with a diverse range of bacteria are better equipped to produce a variety of vitamins, enzymes and other compounds that affect us positively.
For this study, the team collected microbiota data and other health information from three sources, including surveys of more than 2,000 people in Belgium and the U.S. The third group was composed of 453 pairs of female twins in the U.K. By using twins, the researchers were able to control for things that are normally out of scientists' hands, such as early life exposure, socioeconomic background, and most importantly, genetics.
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They found that people who enjoyed even an occasional serving of red wine—as little as one glass every two weeks—showed a positive uptick in gut biodiversity. White wine drinkers showed a more modest uptick, while beer, spirits and cider drinkers showed no difference from people who drank rarely or not at all.
The authors hypothesize that the rich and varied polyphenols found in red wine encourage greater and healthier biodiversity in your gut. Lead author Dr. Caroline Le Roy was quick to caution that she's not advising people to start drinking more. "I would say [red wine] can be part of a healthy diet, in moderation," she told Wine Spectator. "But it is not so healthy that if you don't drink red wine already that you should start now. You can find polyphenols in many other foods besides wine."
Le Roy added that wine is unlike yogurt and probiotic pills—which add specific beneficial strains of bacteria to your gut: "It's less of a probiotic, and more of a prebiotic-like-effect," she said. "You're not necessarily adding things that are missing, but rather helping things that are already there."
And the research is far from over. Dr. Le Roy wants to continue down this path, highlighting especially the possible differences in disparate styles of red wine: "They're all different, in terms of polyphenols and other molecules that may effect gut health."