By Daniele Del Rio
Ah, red wine! I have met this fantastic product for the first time when I was a little boy. The wine typically drunk in my area is called “Lambrusco”. Red and sparkling, not really too much alcohol in it. Very unusual, as I realized after growing up and tasting so many other reds in Italy and around the world. I still remember my father and my grandfather, both never drinking wine, telling us kids to drink a few drops of Lambrusco to get smarter. It was a joke back then, but what if this idea wasn’t completely naïf? What if some molecules in red wine were actually able to interact with the brain….maybe even making us smarter? I guess I never really thought about this idea for many years. Then I suddenly found myself in Glasgow, working with Prof. Alan Crozier, for my PhD. Alan had just published a couple of papers on the phenolic profiles of red wines from all over the world, where Chilean reds were stars on their own (and the Chilean winemakers couldn’t believe how the market reacted to the publication of a nice piece in some central page of a UK newspaper!). Then I met Roger Corder, a brilliant scientist and the author of “The Wine Diet”, a masterpiece of popular science on wine and health.
And then, more than 30 years later, I am involved in a research project called VALID (http://www.jpi-valid.com), in which, with colleagues from Coleraine (Northern Ireland) and Dublin (Republic of Ireland), we are trying hard to understand how polyphenols present in wine and in many other sources, called procyanidins, could interact with our gut microbes and be transformed in metabolites that are then in turn able to mitigate some of the processes that lead to the cognitive decline of the aging brain. We were inspired by preliminary results of our own as well as from other groups, that led us to hypothesize that it’s these metabolites, and not the polyphenols contained in the wine or in the other plant foods we consume in our diet, that may act within our body and, perhaps, reduce our risk of dementia and potentially other chronic illnesses. If this is true….I still don’t know, but the results we will obtain from the dietary and blood analyses of the >5000 subjects that composed our cohort of study (the TUDA cohort) will certainly cast some light on the science that lies underneath what 30 years ago was just a joke for us kids. And to be honest, Lambrusco does not even contain a lot of procyanidins…..
I don’t know if polyphenols are really the secret of living a long and healthy life. I’m pretty sure that if they are…their efficacy depends on the capacity of our gut microbes to make them different and more “active”. I’m also sure, though, that a bottle of tasty and full bodied (and tannic!) red wine drunk with my fellow researchers and friends has the best effect on my brain and on my heart any food can have! The best ideas always originated in these convivial situations, and a glass of red was always the glue between me and the best friends I have around the world! What say you, Chris Gill? Do you agree with this?
Daniele Del Rio is an Associate Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Parma, Italy, where he serves as Deputy Director of the Microbiome Research Hub (www.microbiomeresearchhub.com), and the Scientific Director of the Need For Nutrition Education/Innovation Programme Global Centre for Nutrition & Health, in Cambridge, UK (http://www.nnedpro.org.uk). He serves as Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Taylor & Francis). He is a proud Commendatore (Knight Commander, possibly one of the youngest!!) of the Italian Republic, and he is happily growing a team of very very brilliant scientists.