How Drinking Vino Protects Your Brain

Low to moderate wine intake can prevent neurodegenerative diseases (like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) from setting in.

For a large percentage of people in the world, wine is the beverage of choice to kick back and relax after a long day at the office or a long work week. Few drinks are as versatile or varied as wine, with literally thousands of different flavor profiles to taste.

In the past, studies have discovered that wine offers a lot of health benefits. For example, wine has been proven to be “heart smart” in moderation. It can reduce heart attack and stroke risk, prevent heart disease, fight diabetes, and even improve your colon health.

According to one new study, it’s also excellent for your brain. Low to moderate wine intake can prevent neurodegenerative diseases (like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) from setting in, as well as slow their progression. Wine can be a neuroprotective food, giving you another reason to drink it.

But have you ever wondered how wine can protect your brain? A team of Spanish researchers set about to answer that question, and they did so by studying the wine-derived human gut metabolites—the compounds left in the gut after the wine was digested. They added these metabolites to human cells, and placed those cells under stress conditions. The conditions that would normally have led to cellular dysfunction and ultimately death are also what contribute to neurodegenerative diseases.

The wine metabolites had some pretty fascinating effects on the human cells. First, they prevented the cells from dying, even in the stressful conditions. In fact, they were activated earlier on the cell signaling cascade (chain of events) that ultimately would have led to the cells’ death. The wine metabolites prevented the breakdown of the cells earlier on in the process, essentially protecting against the cellular degeneration.

The most striking result, however, was that the metabolites are active at different points in the cell signaling cascade that is leading to this cell death. The exact composition of the wine metabolites is therefore important in the protective effect. And this composition depends on your gut microbiota composition, as the intestinal flora breaks down the wine into the different metabolites.

“In other words, differences in our gut microbiota are leading to the different metabolites. Which underpins the idea that humans benefit from food in different ways,” Dr. Esteban-Fernández explains. “This individual difference is a factor not to be neglected to understand the health effects of certain foods. We are now in need to advance our understanding of the effect of diet in the promotion of normal brain function.”

“It is very important to understand that certain food compounds are responsible for this health benefit in protecting against the onset of neurodegenerative diseases; no medication was involved. I am not advocating to replace medicines by diet, but I want to raise more awareness how your diet is helping to prevent diseases or reduces the risk of getting sick. It is more than feasible to go to the supermarket and buy vegetables and fruit: it depends only on the individuals to maintain a balanced diet.”

As she works on the role of diet in health maintenance and disease prevention, Dr. Esteban-Fernández takes her own nutrition very serious. “I am really aware about the importance of a healthy diet enriched in vegetables, fruits, and reduced industrial saturated fats. Although I try to maintain my dietary habits as good as possible, I think it is also important to not get too obsessed. Society is nowadays full of false myths about diet, and it is the role of both science and media to avoid the spread of these rumors, as well as make people aware of the importance of diet for your health.”


1. A. Esteban-Fernández, C. Rendeiro, J. P. E. Spencer, D. Gigorro del Coso, M. D. González de Llano, B. Bartolomé, M. V. Moreno-Arribas. “Neuroprotective Effects of Selected Microbial-Derived Phenolic Metabolites and Aroma Compounds from Wine in Human SH-SY5Y Neuroblastoma Cells and Their Putative Mechanisms of Action.” Frontiers in Nutrition, 2017.