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Hormone Effects of

Red Wine Compounds

E-Newsletter No. 24

Differences in human diets are known to have effects on the development of a variety of chronic health conditions known to include heart disease and suspected to include neoplastic diseases. Chiefly suspected in prevention of many of these conditions is consumption of polyphenolic phytochemicals that are very commonly found in a variety of vegetable foodstuffs. Grape juice and wine, especially the red varieties, are known to contain flavonoids that have been demonstrated to possess protective qualities with respect to heart disease and possibly against certain cancers.

Dr. Eng and her colleagues undertook to discover which compounds if any, present in red wines, might be responsible for the previously observed effects. This problem is complex, since the chemicals under consideration are many and complex. While they did not establish the exact nature of these components, the researchers did establish many of their characteristics, which lead to the conclusion that more than one compound is involved and some of the compounds are likely glycosides. Also they addressed the question of how the effects of alcohol might have played into prior research as a confounding factor.

The researchers focused on red wines because the processing of red wines leaves intact more of the flavonoids than does the making of white wine. They isolated and then freeze-dried purified extracts from several types of red and white wine by means of liquid chromatography. Types assayed included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Potentially active fractions were identified via in vitro testing. These proved to be primarily of phytochemical flavonoids with structures that could allow them to mimic estrogen binding. All of the red wines contained the same kinds of compounds with aromatase inhibiting properties.

Purified extracts from these wines were used to assess in vivo characteristics of these chemicals. Use of extracts eliminated confusion due to potential effects of alcohol present in raw wines. Extracts 20x more concentrated than raw wine were fed to transgenic mice bioengineered to overexpress aromatase, a key enzyme in the production of estrogen in vivo. Female mice administered 100 Ál of extract per day exhibited reductions and disappearance of aromatase-induced hyperplasia and neoplasia in mammary tissues as well as exhibiting other symptoms of estrogen deprivation. The researchers believe that the red wine extract inhibited aromatase in a fashion similar to Letrozole, a drug currently used for this purpose. These red wine components may find use in chemoprevention of breast cancer in menopausal women. However, the results also provide a cautionary note for others, especially pregnant women, for whom suppression of aromatase and alteration of hormonal functions could prove problematic.

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