Red Wine Polyphenols' Effects on Gut Microbiota Ecology

Reduction of clostridium in the human gut could offer promise for a range of conditions

By Barry W. Ritz, PhD

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Queipe-Ortuño M. Influence of red wine polyphenols and ethanol on the gut microbiota ecology and biochemical biomarkers. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:1323-1334.


Randomized, crossover, controlled intervention study


Ten healthy male volunteers, 45–50 years of age, without the presence of risk factors for metabolic syndrome or infectious or inflammatory disease

Study Parameters

Following an initial 15-day washout period in which subjects consumed no alcohol, participants were assigned to consume either red wine (272 mL/d), de-alcoholized red wine (272 mL/d), or gin (100 mL/d), for a period of 20 days. Dose was portioned for equivalence in ethanol content for red wine and gin, and comparable total phenols in red wine and de-alcoholized red wine. Treatments were crossed over consecutively with no washout period in between. At baseline and at the end of each 20-day period, fecal, blood, and urine samples were collected for analysis of compliance, fecal microbiota, and comparison of serum biomarkers.


Key Findings

In urinalysis, both resveratrol and dihydroresveratrol concentrations were increased following red wine and de-alcoholized red wine interventions, confirming not only the presence of resveratrol polyphenol in these 2 groups but also the metabolization of resveratrol by microflora. Initial fecal DNA profiling identified 5 main phyla of fecal bacteria in all subjects; Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Fusobacteria. Throughout the study, the genera ratio within these specific phyla changed as compared to baseline. The highest change in diversity in fecal microbiota was noted after red wine intake only—specifically an increase in proteobacteria, firmicutes, and bacteroidetes phyla. Red wine increased enterococcus, bacteroides, and prevotella and decreased clostridium genera. The consumption of red wine polyphenols in both de-alcoholized red wine and red wine was associated with an increase of Blautia coccoides-Eubacteria rectale, bifidobacterium, eggerthella lenta, and bacteroides uniformis.
In addition, consumption of red wine decreased both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, while de-alcoholized red wine significantly decreased systolic blood pressure only. Both red wine and de-alcoholized red wine groups demonstrated a significant reduction in glutamate-oxaloacetate transaminase, γ-gluatmyl transpeptidse, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, and C-reactive protein (CRP).

Clinical Implications

The health benefits of red wine have been researched extensively over the last 10 years, although little has been reported on its effects on the gut microbiota.1 The overall reduction of clostridium genera in this study could show a protective effect by red wine (resveratrol) in the human gut, thus reducing susceptibility to a range of conditions.2–5 In addition to decreasing pathogenic bacteria, resveratrol intake also showed a prebiotic effect in concentrations of beneficial gut bacteria. Commonly supplemented, Bifidobacteria has been shown to be preventive in a broad spectrum of gastrointestinal conditions and has been implicated in immune regulation and pathogen resistance.6–8
The current study adds to the growing body of research that dietary polyphenols may exert some of their positive effects through interaction with the gut microbiota such as through prebiotic effects and the production of bioactive metabolites.
The intake of red wine polyphenols also showed beneficial effects on blood pressure, triglyceride levels, cholesterol, and CRP. Of these parameters, decreased cholesterol and CRP were associated with increased bifidobacteria concentrations. The absence of cardiovascular benefits with gin consumption suggests these effects were associated with polyphenols, not ethanol, although ethanol may affect the gut microflora.9 The reduction of CRP is of particular significance as CRP has been proposed as a marker of general inflammation and a possible predictor for long-term cardiometabolic risk.10–12
The current study adds to the growing body of research that dietary polyphenols may exert some of their positive effects through interaction with the gut microbiota such as through prebiotic effects and the production of bioactive metabolites. Though further research is needed with a larger population, longer duration, and a washout period between crossovers, this study has provided a foundation to further examine the effects of various polyphenols on the gut microbiota and their overall relationship to human health and the prevention and management of disease. 

About the Author

Barry W. Ritz, PhD, is the Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at Atrium Innovations, Inc., and is an active researcher in the emerging field of nutritional immunology. Ritz completed his master's and doctorate degrees at Drexel University. He is involved in a number of professional organizations, including the American Society for Nutritional Sciences. Ritz has presented his research at national and international meetings, has numerous publications in scientific journals, and authored a chapter on the use of nutraceuticals for immune restoration in the elderly in the Handbook on Immunosenescence: Basic Understanding and Clinical Applications.


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