Don’t go topping off your glass just yet… it’s not really “wine” that’s good for your liver. It’s the specific antioxidant, resveratrol, found in red wine that has hepatic benefits. 

Resveratrol is the chemical credited, at least in part, for the “French Paradox”. That is, the fact that French people tend to live long, healthy lives despite a lifestyle that is rich in fatty food, alcohol, and smoking. Resveratrol appears to be incredibly potent in its antioxidant activities, which means preventing or repairing cellular damage caused by toxins and free radicals. 

While red wine is one source of this awesome antioxidant, your liver would likely prefer you get resveratrol from non-alcohol sources. Resveratrol is also found in fresh grapes, blueberries, raspberries, or as a supplement.

What is resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a naturally-occurring, non-toxic compound found in a select few plant species [1]. Its function is both antimicrobial and antioxidant, attacking pathogens (including bacteria and fungi) and free radicals to protect the health of the plant [1]. 

When human cells absorb resveratrol, it offers the same properties. These activities translate to cardioprotective benefits, “anti-aging” properties, and, at least in vitro, the inhibition of tumor growth at every stage of carcinogenesis (initiation, promotion, and progression) [1,2]. 

Another well-studied role for resveratrol is its support of healthy liver function. In 2017, a meta-analysis of 9,268 resveratrol research studies reported that 742 of those had focused specifically on the liver [1]. Nearly half of those studies suggested a therapeutic potential for resveratrol for various types of liver challenges.

A challenge for the supplement industry has been the high solubility and low bioavailability of resveratrol [2]. It breaks down really quickly upon ingestion. By the time it gets from your mouth to the gut, very little is actually left to be absorbed into the circulation, compared to the amount you swallowed. 

To address this challenge, Metabolic Maintenance has formulated resveratrol with piperine (a compound from black pepper). Piperine has been proven to slow the breakdown, increase the absorption, and increase levels of resveratrol in the circulation (dose efficiency) [3].

What does resveratrol do for the liver?

A review published in the journal, Nutrients, in 2021 stated, “Resveratrol can provide Liver protection against chemical, cholestatic, and alcohol-mediated damage. It can improve glucose metabolism and lipid profile, reduce liver fibrosis, and steatosis. Additionally, it is capable of altering the fatty acid composition of the liver cells [4].”

That is a short paragraph with a lot of information to unpack. We will break it down for you:

Fat and the Liver

Let’s start with fat (a.k.a. lipids). A healthy liver has a little bit of fat in it. However, when fat starts to make up more than 5% of your liver’s total weight, it’s a problem. Liver cells that take on too much fat no longer perform their other functions as effectively. In people who drink in moderation, or not at all, this condition is called steatosis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It affects about 25% of the US population, is associated with liver inflammation, fibrosis, and can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure [5].

Scientists still don’t know the exact causes of steatosis or why some people get it while others don’t. We do know that it is associated with being overweight or obese, having high levels of fat (triglycerides) in the blood, and insulin resistance/diabetes [5]. 

The effects of resveratrol on the liver appear to be in opposition to the development of steatosis. Specifically, resveratrol supports better glucose metabolism and a healthier lipid (fat) profile of the liver [4].

Alcohol and the Liver

The liver is the primary site of alcohol metabolism. This means that even though every organ in your body can be damaged by chronic, excessive alcohol use, the liver is going to be the first to feel the effects [6]. 

Interestingly, the effects of chronic alcohol use are not dissimilar from NAFLD. It causes the accumulation of fat in liver cells (steatosis), fibrosis, cirrhosis, and hepatitis [6]. Therefore, the actions of resveratrol may counteract the effects of alcohol on the liver as well.  

Of course, we need to talk about the degree of these effects. Resveratrol supplementation cannot prevent or negate damage caused by heavy drinking. Even a few days of heavy drinking can alter the health and function of your liver. 

The amazing flip side is that the liver is regenerative, and can be very quick to recover… as long as you don’t make heavy drinking a habit. A few days of detox can make a difference too. Perhaps, it would be better to consider resveratrol a great detox support supplement, when you are already making healthy choices about alcohol consumption.

What is “healthy” alcohol consumption? Well, having one resveratrol-containing glass of red wine (about 5 ounces) with dinner is probably a safe choice for the average female and males may be able to have 2 of those without more consequence. It’s not fair, but it’s biological. The male liver just makes more of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which means they break alcohol down quicker, and suffer fewer negative effects than females [7].

Red Wine, Resveratrol, AND the Liver

So… back to your original question. Yes, red wine is often the richest source of resveratrol in the diet, and resveratrol supports liver health [8]. But, wine is also a source of alcohol, which damages liver health. No need to go pour out your glass, just be reticent of moderation.

If you have a functional, healthy liver, moderate wine drinking is associated with good health from multiple perspectives. 

In terms of clinically relevant doses, however, red wine contains about 1.8 mg resveratrol/L [8]. That amount translates to about 0.3 mg per glass of wine. In comparison, 1 capsule of Metabolic Maintenance’s Resveratrol with Piperine contains 200 mg resveratrol. The 200 mg serving is relevant to doses used in clinical trials, while the dose delivered by red wine is not [8]. 

Together, these data indicate that resveratrol is likely supportive of many body systems, but wine probably isn’t the best source. You would have to drink so much wine to get clinically relevant doses of resveratrol that you would very likely do more harm than good to your liver (and other organs). 

Maybe chase your single glass of red wine with a resveratrol capsule. A single resveratrol supplement delivers about 670x more resveratrol than your glass of wine, with no liver damage and no hangover. 

References:

  1. Weiskirchen, Sabine, and Ralf Weiskirchen. “Resveratrol: is it really good for liver health?.” Hepatitis Monthly 17.8 (2017).
  2. Salehi, Bahare, et al. “Resveratrol: A double-edged sword in health benefits.” Biomedicines 6.3 (2018): 91.
  3. Johnson, Jeremy J., et al. “Enhancing the bioavailability of resveratrol by combining it with piperine.” Molecular nutrition & food research 55.8 (2011): 1169-1176.
  4. Izzo, Carmine et al. “The Role of Resveratrol in Liver Disease: A Comprehensive Review from In Vitro to Clinical Trials.” Nutrients vol. 13,3 933. 13 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13030933
  5. Mayo Clinic. “Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.” 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20354567
  6. Osna, Natalia A et al. “Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management.” Alcohol research : current reviews vol. 38,2 (2017): 147-161.
  7. Chrostek, Lech et al. “Gender-related differences in hepatic activity of alcohol dehydrogenase isoenzymes and aldehyde dehydrogenase in humans.” Journal of clinical laboratory analysis vol. 17,3 (2003): 93-6. doi:10.1002/jcla.10076
  8. Weiskirchen, Sabine, and Ralf Weiskirchen. “Resveratrol: How Much Wine Do You Have to Drink to Stay Healthy?.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 7,4 706-18. 15 Jul. 2016, doi:10.3945/an.115.011627