14 November 2023
Could a daily glass of wine help people stay healthy as they age? A team of scientists found that nutrients in wine and foods could help prevent the onset of frailty in adults over the age of 55. Their research suggests that adults who consume high levels of flavonols—antioxidants found commonly in wine, green tea, dark chocolate, citrus fruits, apples, berries and coffee—have a significantly lower chance of developing frailty as they age. They found particular benefits from the flavonol called quercetin, which is found in red wine.
Doctors have been working to define frailty as a health condition for close to three decades. In basic terms, frailty means increased vulnerability to adverse health outcomes, specifically in adults over the age of 50. Studies estimate 10 to 15 percent of people develop frailty as they age.
The symptoms include decreased strength, mobility, energy and physical activity, as well as slower walking speed. Doctors also look for the development of depression and depressive symptoms, as well as unintentional or unexplained weight loss of over 10 pounds over the course of two years. All of this can lead to a greater risk of falls, fractures, hospitalization and death. Exercise habits and nutrition are considered a prime factor behind the condition.
“Effective treatments for frailty are lacking, underscoring the importance of research in frailty prevention and treatment,” write the study’s authors. “Understanding risk factors that lead to frailty is necessary to develop interventions that delay, reverse, or prevent frailty.”
For this study, published in the July issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a team of researchers, primarily from Harvard Medical School and funded by the National Institute of Aging, wanted to see if flavonoids, a large family of polyphenolic compounds found in plants which have anti-inflammatory properties, could reduce the risk of frailty. They analyzed data from the larger Framingham Heart Study. Since 1948, the Framingham team has been collecting health data for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) from three generations of participants in the city of Framingham, Massachusetts. The data includes dietary habits.
For the frailty research, the Harvard team defined flavonoid-rich foods and drinks as any that contained one or more of seven polyphenolic compounds: flavanol, quercetin, flavones, flavanones, flavan-3-ols, anthocyanins and polymeric flavonoids.
While the data did not show a statistically significant link between overall flavonoid intake and frailty, it did find a link with flavonol consumption, particularly the flavonol quercetin. The researchers found that for each 10 milligrams of flavonol a person consumed daily, there was a 20 percent lower risk of developing frailty. And every 10 milligrams per day of quercetin led to a 35 percent lower risk of frailty onset.
Foods with high amounts of flavonols include many vegetables, fruits, grains and drinks such as green tea, black tea, coffee, and, of course, red wine. Grapes, red wine, kale and red onions are particularly high in quercetin. The amount of quercetin in red wine varies, but it can add up to as much as 3 milligrams in a 150 ml glass.
While the Framingham data comes from a large, diverse study population, there are limitations. The research relies on participants’ self reported diets and food choices, which aren’t always accurate.
“This study highlights the potential of dietary flavonols and quercetin as a strategy to prevent frailty onset. Future research should focus on dietary interventions of flavonols or quercetin for treating frailty,” the authors write.
By Olivia Nolan