Better wine

Published on November 1st, 2008 | by Bryan Luukinen

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Heavy Metal: Some Wines May also be Hazardous to Your Health

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Researchers at Kingston University in London have found something surprising in wine: heavy metals. The researchers, Professor Declan Naughton and Dr. Andrea Petroczi, used an EPA testing method to look at the health risks (yes, you read that correctly) from drinking wine.

Red wine has been extolled for its health-benefitting properties in recent years, and may even protect people from food-borne diseases. Wine has been investigated as a possible disinfectant by a researcher at Oregon State University, and has even been found to potentially fight tooth decay. So, with all that good, there has to be some bad, right?

Aside from the long-known dangers of hangover, drunk driving, and cirrhosis, drinking alcohol in moderation avoids many of these pitfalls and was supposed to be a practice that was good for you. Right? It turns out that Naughton and Petroczi found some evidence to the contrary – wine may actually be bad for you – or at least not as panacean as once thought.

The researchers used a type of hazard index, the Target Hazard Quotient (THQ), to estimate the hazard associated with encountering heavy metal ions in wine. The heavy metals examined were lead, chromium, copper, zinc, nickel, manganese and vanadium. Any wine with a THQ above 1.0 could be potentially hazardous to people, and researchers found that some of the wines scored as high as 200 to 300.

Heavy metals are a bad deal for good health, and can contribute to problems such as Parkinson’s disease, some other neurological problems, and may even serve as cancer precursors. The researchers looked at the effects of drinking a 250 mL (8.5 oz.) glass a day. Vanadium, copper and manganese had the highest impact on the THQ scores. Binge drinking was not accounted for in the study, so look out winos, you may be at an even higher risk.

Wines with the lowest associated risks were those from Argentina, Brazil and Italy. Those with the highest THQs were from Hungary and Slovakia. These results may seem alarming, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are dozens of other factors that influence the effects that food may have on health. For example, the oxidizing properties of heavy metals in wine have to fight with the powerful antioxidant resveratrol. Take home message? More research should be done, but you can minimize your risk by checking out the study and buying wines from countries with a low THQ score.

The Study:

Declan P Naughton and Andrea Petroczi. Heavy metal ions in wines: meta-analysis of target hazard quotients reveal health risks. Chemistry Central Journal, (in press)

Download a provisional copy of the article

Image credit: FLY2005 at flickr under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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About the Author

I'm an environmental scientist, food lover, gardener, aspiring farmer, and one helluva cook. I'm passionate about food politics, the environment, rational governments, cooking, food, and life. I live in Corvallis, OR, but I've been lots of places. Most don't get nearly the rain we do here. I think food is one of the most important things in life. We all eat, and therefore we all make an impact on the world with our food choices. We have all gotten too far from our food, and once we get closer, the charade of the industrial food system becomes more apparent. Do not dispair; grow something to eat, choose food that your grandmother could identify as such, and think about where your food comes from. If we all did one of those three, real, good food would be much more plentiful - and the world might be a better place.



  • http://www.KatonahGreen.com Heather Flournoy

    What about ORGANIC wines? I’d really like to know as I recently started drinking a sulfite-free organic wine from CA

  • http://www.moshbook.com Metal Head

    Darn it
    I just spent ages typing a long comment, but when I hit the submit button my browser crashed.
    Did it come though or do I need to retype the whole thing?

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