Scientists have already discovered two types of bioactive compounds in oak-aged wine that have anti-cancer properties. These are the polyphenol resveratrol and ellagitannin. Find out in this article how wine protects us from developing cancer.
Wine and its Medicinal Properties
Wine is produced through the fermentation of fruit juices by microorganisms like yeasts. The microorganisms digest the sugar present in the fruit juice and in the process, alcohol and carbon dioxide are created. The most common type of fruit used in making wine is grape but other fruits like pineapple, mango, pears, and berries are also used. A typical wine is composed of 85-89% water, 10-14% alcohol, less than 1% acids, and very low amounts of aromatic compounds and flavors. Wine is as old as human civilization; there are archaeological evidences showing that wine-making is already practiced 8,000 years ago. It was a highly regarded drink because it is enjoyed in various festivities; it was also accepted as payment for taxes and offering to the gods (Bisson and Butzke 2008).
The study of the medicinal properties of wine has been disregarded because of the common notion that alcohol is not good to human health. However, the desperation to find cure for cancer opened the way for scientists to search on natural products that have anti-cancer properties like wine. They discovered that wine contain bioactive compounds that can prevent the transformation of normal cells into cancerous ones. These bioactive compounds are called anti-oxidants – compounds capable of destroying free-radicals in the cell. Free radicals are found in various cellular components and can create abnormalities to the DNA and eventually to the behavior of the cell. Uncontrollable mitosis (cellular division) is a kind of cell abnormality which leads to the formation of tumors.
Two classes of bioactive compounds have been isolated in oak-aged wine: polyphenols and ellagitannins. Each of them will be discussed separately in this article.
Polyphenol Resveratrol: Anti-cancer Properties
Polyphenols are compounds found in the skin of red and white grapes. It is released when alcohol dissolves them from the skins of grapes during the fermentation process. There are more polyphenols in red wine because the skins of white grapes are removed after crushing them and before placing them in oak barrels. Among the phenols isolated in wine are catechin, epicatechin, gallic acid, and resveratrol. All of them have anti-oxidant properties but the polyphenol resveratrol seems to be the most potent according to various studies. Resveratrol is a natural phenol compound produced by plants to defend themselves against pathogenic fungi, stress UV light, and the like.
Proven To Inhibit Cancer Growth
Laboratory experiments showed that the polyphenol resveratrol inhibits the growth of cancer cells in culture. Laboratory animals administered with polyphenol resveratrol showed a lower incidence rate of developing tumor than those that did not receive the substance. Published articles in the International Journal of Cancer reported that a cup of wine a day can decrease a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer by 50%. Another study shows that the anti-inflammatory effect of wine has a significant effect in inhibiting the progression of cancer from one stage to the other. This is according to an experiment in animal models (e.g. mice). (National Cancer Institute 2002)
Scientists claim that the alcohol content of wine is not associated to its anti-cancer properties. The small amount of compounds found on it like the polyphenol resveratrol have the anti-cancer properties. They added that excessive alcohol consumption is associated to some types of cancer like esophageal and gastric cancer. They advised people that alcoholic beverages should be taken moderately (Boyles 2009).
Latest Discovery from Wine: Ellagitannins
Researchers from the Research Center of Molecular Chemistry at the University of Bordeaux, France discovered a new class of anti-oxidant molecules which they call ellagitannins. Ellagitannins are natural products in oak wood and extracted into the wine during the aging process. Once extracted, ellagitannins chemically react to the organic compounds in the wine such as anthocyanins, flavanols, ethanols, and thiols. The new organic compounds produced through the reactions are acutissimins, epiacutissmins, vescalene, and (-)-vescalin. According to the researchers, these compounds can act as topoisomerase II inhibitors in cancer cells. Topoisomerases are enzymes that prepare the DNA before the replication process. If these are inhibited, replication of cancer cell DNA would be prevented and the production of new cancer cells is stopped (Borman 2005).
Vescalin and vescalene are the most potent among the compounds produced through the reactions of ellagitannins and the wine’s organic compounds. The researchers are now coordinating with a biotech company to develop powerful anti-cancer drugs made up of vescalin and vescalene (Borman 2005).