Over the last decade, a small team of researchers has gone around the world looking for the key to longevity. They stayed everywhere from the mountains of Barbagia in Southern Italy to the subtropical islands of Okinawa, Japan, studying cultures that lead to the longest, most fulfilling lives.
They came to a few interesting conclusions. People who live well move naturally throughout the day. They eat less. They practice some form of spirituality. They build relaxation into their days to ease life’s stresses.
And, interestingly, they drink wine. Nearly every single Blue Zone - region with the longest-living people - has moderate daily alcohol consumption as part of its culture. In most cases that alcohol is red wine, grown the way it has been for centuries. A daily glass of natural red wine may be contributing to these populations’ longevity.
We still aren’t sure what it is about red wine that leads to longevity, but the theory is that it has to do with polyphenols - a myriad of vibrant antioxidants and aromatic compounds that help you build a strong foundation of health.
Polyphenols are guardians. Grapes make them to protect against fungi, bacteria, frost, and other harsh growing conditions (sidenote: fruits sprayed with pesticides have no need to ward off pests, and they produce fewer polyphenols. Go organic!). When you drink wine, those polyphenols protect you in a similar way; they neutralize damaging free radicals that stress your cells.
Every bottle of wine has a unique collection of dozens (sometimes even hundreds) of different polyphenols. They contribute to the wine’s taste, color, mouthfeel, and nose. The diversity is valuable, too: polyphenols seem to work with one another, and consuming a wide variety appears to be more important than getting a lot of any single one. That could explain why wine is so good for longevity.
Here are some of the common phenolic compounds in red wine.
Resveratrol is probably the most famous red wine polyphenol. Newspapers have picked it up as a wellspring of health benefits, from fighting inflammation to slowing aging. The real story, however, is a little more complicated. Resveratrol shows a lot of benefits in rodents and cell cultures, but scientists are still cautious about saying it does the same for people. It’s not yet proven to be the miracle cure-all supplement companies say it is, but resveratrol is still a promising polyphenol.
How to get it: You’ll find the highest concentrations of resveratrol in Pinot Noir and St. Laurent. Enjoy natural biodynamic wines; in commercial wine the filtering agents, stabilizers, and clarification process all strip wine of resveratrol molecules.
Procyanidins are the most abundant polyphenols in many red wines. Procyanidins influence mouthfeel - they cause the dry, puckering feeling on your gums when you taste a tannic wine. Procyanidins are also strong antioxidants - they prevent hardening arteries in humans, quiet inflammation, and can keep your skin and hair lustrous by stabilizing collagen.
How to get them: Wine that’s been macerated - kept in contact with grape skins - for a longer time will have more procyanidins. French wine often has long maceration periods. Choose a Rhone, Malbec, or Bordeaux for extra procyanidins.
Ellagic acid is a red wine phenol that could help you burn fat and regulate blood sugar. A study in obese mice found that those who took ellagic acid had the blood sugar of normal, lean mice, and didn’t accumulate liver fat. A follow-up study in human cells found that ellagic acid prevents your body from making new fat cells and protects your liver from fatty acid oxidation.
How to get it: Ellagic acid is naturally plentiful in oak trees, and will diffuse into any oak-aged wine. You can also get ellagic acid from green tea, or from a handful of fresh raspberries.
A glass of red a day…
We love getting into the details of wine and how it can affect you, but you don’t have to be so scientific. People who live in Blue Zones drink many different types of natural red wine, and they all seem to benefit from it. On top of that, several large studies have found that drinking a daily serving of any red wine can:
Keep your heart healthy
Decrease blood pressure
Ward off dementia
Strengthen mitochondria (the part of your cell that makes energy)
In other words, a glass of red wine a day, regardless of the specific variety, may be something worth considering.