Red wine might help oral health

Polyphenols found in red wine may support oral bacteria able to inhibit tooth decay and gum disease

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Moderate red wine consumption has been associated with a range of health benefits. Many of the claims made historically have not been supported by the latest evidence. In any case, increasing alcohol consumption per se could have a negative health impact that outweighs any positive outcome. However research featured by the BBC this week is linking red wine to improved oral health by acting as a probiotic for mouth bacteria.

Recent research into red wine has highlighted the benefits of polyphenols, these are antioxidant compounds present in red wine, thought to fight harmful free radicals in humans. A recent study from Spain indicates that red wine may be able to exert a beneficial influence over damaging oral bacteria. The effect of polyphenols (caffeic and p-coumaric acids) were tested on the bacteria that can harm teeth and causes gum disease. Caffeic and p-coumaric acids were found to be more successful than grape seed and red wine oenological extracts at limiting the ability of bacteria to stick to cells. But when combined with an oral probiotics (streptococcus dentisani), the polyphenols ability to limit the growth of harmful bacteria (streptococcus mutans) was enhanced.

This is an initial study carried out on cells in a lab, not on actual people, it reflects a simplified or reduced approach. Results will need to be replicated in other studies and ultimately with humans. However the important point to take at this stage is that there is some evidence that wine appears to offer probiotic qualities to both mouth and gut bacteria. This isn’t a charter for people to increase wine consumption, the overall effect of drinking wine hasn’t been clearly established and it is likely to be different for each person. However this study offers yet more evidence of the important role of probiotics in human health.

Polyphenols are abundant micronutrients present in a wide range of foods and drinks, not just red wine. The extent to which any individual substance is able to deliver the health benefits of the polyphenols contained within it is still being researched. The ability of our body to digest and make available the polyphenols we consume is a key issue. Other foodstuffs rich in polyphenols include, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, green tea, black tea and coffee.