Having a glass of wine with dinner can be one of life's greatest pleasures — and it need not be a guilty one. Not only does it have heart and gut benefits, a new study says it might actually improve liver function. What? Alcohol beneficial for the liver?
Well, not exactly. It's certain chemicals — particularly ellagic acid — in dark-colored grapes that could help people better manage obesity and related metabolic disorders such as fatty liver. In other words, red wine might be able to help overweight people burn fat better.
Neil Shay, co-author of the study, warns that these chemicals shouldn't be considered some kind of weight-loss miracle. "We didn't find, and we didn't expect to, that these compounds would improve body weight," he said in a press release. But by boosting the burning of fat, especially in the liver, they may improve liver function in overweight people.
For the study, Shay and his colleagues added extracts from Pinot Noir grapes to the diets of overweight mice in their lab.
Some were fed a normal diet, containing 10% fat. The rest were fed a diet of 60% fat, the sort of unhealthy diet that could cause obesity in a human. Shay believes these mice are a good model for the sedentary person who eats too much snack food and doesn't get enough exercise.
Over a 10-week trial, the high-fat-fed mice developed fatty liver and diabetic symptoms, but those who got the grape extracts accumulated less fat in their livers and had lower blood sugar than those that consumed the high-fat diet alone. The ellagic acid lowered the high-fat-fed mice's blood sugar to nearly the levels of the lean, normally fed mice. Those mice were also much better at metabolizing fat and sugar.
Shay believes that the ellagic acid and other chemicals work in a similar way to commonly prescribed drugs for lowering blood sugar and triglycerides. But his goal is not to find ways to substitute medicine with certain foods; instead, he just wants to help people choose the best food for their metabolic health.
The portion of grape extracts given to the mice were about the equivalent of one and a half cups of grapes a day for a person. Keep in mind that, to have a complete understanding of how grapes affect humans, further study needs to be performed on, well, people.
But these findings are encouraging — not that we really needed more convincing to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time.