Salud to the Microbe: The Probiotic Potential of Wine

Amanda Buckingham | November 3, 2014

How is wine similar to yogurt? Both confer health benefits, such as the anti-inflammatory properties of red wine and the calcium-rich nature of yogurt. But more directly, dairy products and wine share a common origin: fermentation by lactic acid bacteria. In yogurt, these bacteria have been lauded as probiotics—live organisms that are thought to benefit one’s health when consumed in sufficient quantities.

Probiotics are taken to add supplementary, beneficial bacteria to the gut microbiome to improve digestive health. While scientists caution against thinking of probiotics as ‘cure-alls’, studies have shown that they do provide certain perks, such as lowering cholesterol and preventing the growth of pathogenic bacteria

Bacteria found in wine may benefit one’s health. Image courtesy of Wikicommons.

Bacteria found in wine may benefit one’s health. Image courtesy of Wikicommons.

Because of the prevalence of lactose intolerance, other sources of probiotics beside dairy products must be found. A team of Spanish scientists, recognizing that lactic acid bacteria in wine might be ideal probiotics, conducted a series of experiments to test for their probiotic potential. Their study will be published in the print edition of Food Microbiology in December.

In their experiment, the researchers studied 11 types of bacteria, including Oenococcus, Pediococcus, and Lactobacillus, isolated from red wine. The goal of the experiment was to see if these bacteria could survive in the gastrointestinal system and if so, what sort of health benefits they may provide.

Potential probiotics must be able to survive the hostile clime of the digestive tract in order to make an impact. To verify this, scientists in the study introduced the bacteria to a simulated gastrointestinal system to see how well they fared. The bacteria were subjected to a lysozyme treatment (to simulate the saliva in the mouth), a series of low pH treatments (emulating gastric juices in the stomach), and a bile treatment (the environment of the upper intestine).

All of the bacteria strains surveyed in the study survived in the different environments—but scientists had yet to verify that they remained in the gut. To do so, the bacteria were introduced to human intestine cells, and were shown to adhere well to the surface. The researchers also added E. coli to the experimental setup and noted that the bacteria found in wine displaced the pathogen’s adhesion to the gut.

Bacteria found in wine—particularly the strain Pediococcus pentosaceus—thus have promising probiotic potential. Dairy products, however, still trump wine in probiotic potential, particularly in regard to the quantity of bacteria found; the addition of sulfites to better preserve the drink is lethal to many strains of lactic acid bacteria.

Despite this, the scientists found the potential of wine as a source of probiotics to be incredibly exciting, meriting further in vivo and in vitro studies. The study even has potential commercial applications, as bacteria isolated from wine could be used in probiotic supplements. With probiotics as an additional health benefit of wine, this beverage is the toast of the town.