Is wine a probiotic?

Joanna Scott-Lutyens BA (Hons) DipION

Anyone who enjoys the occasional glass of red wine has most likely been heard extolling its virtues as a great source of antioxidants, and promoter of longevity!

Recently a study published in Food Microbiology1 might just have given us something else to shout about! The study, isolated bacteria found in red wine and tested them for probiotic qualities. The strains tested were 11 strains of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) belonging to the species: Pediococcus pentosaceus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum and O.oeni.

Many of us already know that probiotics can be found in some fermented dairy foods, but until recently the potential probiotic qualities of wine, which is also a fermented product, have not been studied.

And the good news is....that the study might just have given us another reason to choose red wine over any other type of alcoholic beverage, confirming that 'yes' ideed red wine contains probiotics!

As if we needed any more encouragment to enjoy a nice, velvet-y glass or two...

glass of wine being poured

The bacteria found present in the wine were put through tests to ascertain whether they would survive simulated gastric juices. This is one of the main tests that bacteria are put through in order to be considered a viable probiotic. As well as this they were tested to ascertain if they would adhere to gut wall epithelial cells, another necessary characteristic for probiotics. The bacteria which were isolated did both of these things. In particular, one strain of bacteria, called P. pentosaceus CIAL-86, had an "excellent" ability to stick to the intestinal wall and "good" activity against harmful strains of E. Coli.

Certain other aspects, including shelf stability were not looked at in the study, and there remains a question as to how long the wine has to be fermented for in order to have these probiotic qualities. In addition, the study does not mention how many microorganisms would in general be included in a glass of wine, so we can not tell the strength or 'dose' that we would be getting. This, of course, would be a major consideration were we to be using wine as a probiotic supplement!

Healthcare practitioners can read more about probiotics and testing.

This study headed up by Dolores González de Llano of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain does indicate that the probiotic properties of the lactic-acid bacteria isolated from wine are similar to those that come from more commonly known probiotic foods such as fermented dairy products and others such as sauerkraut and miso.

However, we feel it would be a little dangerous to advocate the use of alcohol for its health benefits as this information could be misunderstood and misused. We mustn't forget all the research showing that drinking too much alcohol has detrimental effects to your health. For instance:

  • Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of oesophagus and breast cancer.
  • It’s also linked to liver disease.
  • It can block the absorption of some minerals including iron.
  • It is high in sugar, and can lead to decreased energy.
  • It’s also addictive and can exacerbate mental health problems amongst many other things2.

With this in mind, we would always advocate following government guidelines on how much is safe to drink.

It’s also worth noting that the sugar content in red wine and other alcoholic drinks is detrimental to gut health as it feeds Candida (healthcare professionals can read more about candida on Probiotic Professionals page) and other pathogens which we do not want to encourage as they can indeed lead to dysbiosis which is detrimental to gut health.

Read Nutritional Therapist Kathy's blog to learn more about: 'What is dysbiosis?'

So, although fascinatingly red wine does indeed appear to contain some probiotic qualities, it’s probably not a good idea to swap your probiotic supplement for a glass of rioja just yet!

If you're interested in how various other foods have probiotic properties, how about reading about the secret properties of coffee.

2019 update

A study recently conducted at Kings College London has gone on to corroborate these earlier findings, by showing that the occasional glass of red wine could be beneficial for our gut health3.

The team of researchers, from the Department of Twins Research & Genetic Epidemiology, looked at how our gut microbiomes can be affected by alcoholic beverages including beer, cider, spirits, and both red and white wine. The initial sample was a group of 916 female twins.

It was found that those who consumed the red wine had a greater diversity of bacterial species in the gut than those who didn't. The same result was seen in further cohorts in the UK, the U.S., and Belgium, and across external factors including age, weight, diet and socioeconomic status.

It's suspected that polyphenols (defence chemicals found in many fruits and veg) found in red wine are responsible for the benefits, as they can provide a boost to the microbes in our bodies.

Lead author, Professor Tim Spector, commented:

“This is one of the largest ever studies to explore the effects of red wine in the guts of nearly three thousand people in three different countries and provides insights that the high levels of polyphenols in the grape skin could be responsible for much of the controversial health benefits when used in moderation.”

Interestingly, the same effect was not observed with any of the other alcohols, and drinking red wine as little as every two weeks was enough to notice an effect.

So, again, it's definitely not a good idea to start knocking the Shiraz back! As with any aspect of our health, moderation and balance is key.

References

  1. García-Ruiz, A., González de Llano, D., Esteban-Fernández, A., Requena, T., Bartolomé, B., & Moreno-Arribas, M. (2014). Assessment of probiotic properties in lactic acid bacteria isolated from wine. Food microbiology, 44, 220-225.
  2. http://www.nhs.uk/Change4Life/Pages/alcohol-health-harms.aspx
  3. Spector, T., Le Roy, C. I., et al. (2019) 'Red Wine Consumption Associated With Increased Gut Microbiota α-diversity in 3 Independent Cohorts'. Gastroenterology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2019.08.024