- Wine and some other foods contain a natural compound that activates estrogen receptors
- This compound can possibly replace hormonal treatments countering the effects of menopause
What if the French had it all figured out? A study supports the theory that a small glass of wine a day could help you age better. Indeed, small doses of resveratrol, a natural compound found in peanuts, pistachios, grape skins, red wine, raspberries or cocoa, could activate estrogen receptors, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports. This steroid hormone is naturally produced by both men and women. While most people have heard of its role in regulating reproduction, it also protects against certain age-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease or osteoporosis.
Estrogen receptors activate proteins called sirtuins in the body. The latter participate in the control of mitochondrial biogenesis, DNA repair and the regulation of metabolism. For biologists, sirtuins would be excellent and potential drug targets.
“Numerous animal studies have suggested that these proteins may extend healthy lifespan by preventing or slowing the onset of disease.according to Henry Bayele, PhD in molecular biology at University College London, UK. However, the development of effective drug or dietary treatments has been hampered by a lack of consensus on their exact function in body cells.“, he asserts.
To learn more, Bayele and his colleagues exposed liver cells in vitro to various dietary compounds that activate sirtuins: resveratrol and isoflavones, such as daidzin, present in soybeans and other legumes. These compounds are collectively called activating dietary sirtuins or dSTACs.
They then found that in low doses, resveratrol increased sirtuin signaling in cells by mimicking estrogen. However, at high doses, it would decrease sirtuin signaling. But isoliquiritigenin, present in licorice, would be even more effective in activating sirtuins.
Therefore, dSTACs can be considered “plant estrogens”, believes Henry Bayele. They are able to perform functions normally reserved for estrogen and could therefore benefit the brain, liver, skeletal muscles and bones.
The “French paradox”
This study is an argument for the theory that one glass of red wine a day, not more, promotes good aging. According to Bayele, this could explain the “French paradox”. Certain populations in France have been shown to have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer despite eating a high-fat diet.
“Regular low doses of resveratrol, for example through moderate consumption of red wine as part of a healthy diet, should be able to induce the benefits of estrogen. This would apply to both men and women of all ages, but postmenopausal women might benefit the most, as they have lower estrogen stores than men of the same age.“, explains Henry Bayele. Ultimately, these results could make it possible to develop alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to combat the symptoms of menopause, HRT being known to have severe side effects: it would increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and certain cancers.
But before that, clinical studies will be necessary: the effects of dSTACs on cells in vitro may not reflect their effects in humans, warns Bayele. As an illustration, if the body can digest the compounds in the gut, they could be poorly absorbed into the blood. In summary, more research is needed to confirm whether people can use dSTACs as an estrogen replacement for healthy aging.
The eternal debate around the daily glass of red wine
This study is not the first to examine the benefits of resveratrol for the body. A previous work carried out on rats, the conclusions of which were published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, indicated that this compound would be able to preserve the muscle strength of astronauts sent to Mars. “Resveratrol has been shown to preserve bone and muscle mass in rats during full unloading, similar to the microgravity of spaceflight. Therefore, we hypothesized that a moderate daily dose would also help lessen muscle deconditioning in a severity similar to that experienced on Mars.“, summed up the researchers.
According to other previous work carried out by the University of New Brunswick (Canada), resveratrol could be a “effective alternative to medication for treating people with depression and anxiety disorders“.
The effects of drinking one glass of red wine a day on cardiovascular health have been debated for years. While French researchers showed in 2004 that a very modest consumption improved it, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol, and also reduced the risk of certain cancers, a British study published in The Lancet denied these results. According to these scientists, there would be no benefit to drinking a glass of wine every day, quite the contrary. In fact, according to them, this habit would increase the risk of stroke by 10 to 15%.
When in doubt, the National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addictology recommends “limit consumption to a maximum of two glasses a day and not to consume alcohol every day”.