The heart-protecting properties of red wine have been well documented over the last few years, leading to a sharp increase in sales the world over, mostly to the detriment of white wine. But now white wine has a chance to fight back following the revelation that it can help keep the lungs healthy.
Researchers from the University at Buffalo in the US discovered that wine, and white varieties in particular, contains nutrients which can help protect the tissues of the lungs.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society, Holger Schunemann, assistant professor of medicine and social and preventive medicine at the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, reported that drinking wine recently and over a lifetime was associated with better lung function.
Schunemann's study found no association between lung function and total amount of alcohol consumed - some previous studies had in fact discovered a negative effect - and also found that only wine was beneficial - beer, spirits and other alcoholic drinks had no noticeable effect.
"This finding may indicate that nutrients in wine are responsible for the positive effect of alcoholic beverages on lung function," said Schunemann. "Red wine in moderation has been shown to be beneficial for the heart, but in this case the relationship was stronger for white wine."
A random sample of 1,555 people was asked by the researchers to provide comprehensive information about current and lifetime alcohol consumption and lifestyle habits, including diet.
All the participants performed standard lung-function tests, which measured the volume of air they could expel in one breath - their forced vital capacity (FVC) - and the volume forcibly expelled in one second (FEV1).
The researchers defined those who had fewer than 12 drinks during their lifetime as "never drinkers" and those who were drinkers but had consumed no alcohol in the past month as "non-current drinkers." The remaining "current drinkers" reported the type of alcoholic beverage they drank and how often, the size of each drink, patterns of consumption and how often they drank more than usual.
The UB team found that the group which drank only wine contained more women than men, while the wine drinkers also had the highest levels of protective antioxidants in their blood. It is these antioxidants which Schunemann's team suggest have the beneficial effect on lung health.
"Evidence suggests that alcohol may increase the oxidative burden," he said, "but there is a large body of evidence showing that wine contains antioxidants such as flavanoids and phenols. We also have shown that both dietary levels and blood serum levels of antioxidants are linked to lung health and function. We think that the antioxidants in wine account for our current findings."
More research is necessary to confirm the findings of the UB study, and it is as yet unclear whether the potential benefits of alcohol consumption outweigh the potential threats - such as the aforementioned increase in the oxidative burden. Experts stressed that a balanced diet and exercise were much healthier means of keeping healthy lungs.