Break Open the Bubbly

Dear Health Conscious Reader,

Pop the cork on a bottle of champagne and you know it’s time for a celebration. “The Bubbly” makes you feel good right away because if you’re drinking it, you know times are good.

Did you know it’s good for you, too? Champagne is packed with polyphenols, which are antioxidants from the grapes. They help protect your brain and your heart, keep your blood pressure low, and increase the “feel-good” chemicals in your brain.

There are other plants that have some of the same compounds you can find in champagne. Cocoa has them, for example… but a cup of hot chocolate somehow doesn’t seem as fun as a glass of champagne.

You get champagne either by combining two kinds of black grapes, pinot noir and pinot meunier, or by using the white chardonnay grape, and letting them ferment. That just means you let the grapes sit there until their sugars turn into alcohol.

But with champagne, you let them ferment twice, instead of once like regular wine. That’s when the bubbles start to form. And that’s when the fun starts. Not just for celebrations, but for your body, too.

As it turns out, champagne is very healthy.

Champagne gives you the same amount of heart protection as red wine, helping your heart’s pumping performance, increasing heart muscle energy production, and protecting your heart’s cells from free radical damage.1

The British Journal of Nutrition published a study that looked at whether or not champagne could affect how well your arteries work. They discovered that champagne specifically – not the alcohol in it, or the phenolic acids, which are the antioxidants from grapes – does make them work better.

They gave people two glasses of champagne to drink, and found that The Bubbly boosts nitric oxide. That’s the compound that relaxes your blood vessels and lowers your blood pressure. And the effect lasts for up to eight hours.2

A different study found that the antioxidants in the phenolic acids have another benefit. They appear to protect your brain.

The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a study that found three phenolic acids from champagne – tyrosol, caffeic acid and gallic acid – protect against the damage to your brain that free radicals can cause. Also, they protect you even if you only drink a small amount of champagne.3

Champagne can also be beneficial in other ways. For example, it causes you to release dopamine, the “feel-good” brain chemical that helps you to move around, think positively, and experience pleasure.4

Champagne may even help you digest your food better. A German study on the effects of different kinds of alcohol on people’s stomachs found that alcohols that are distilled (like vodka) have no effect on gastric acid, which your stomach makes so it can break down your food and digest it. But fermented alcohols, like champagne, increase gastric acid by as much as 95 percent.5

It’s well documented that one drink a day for women and up to two a day for men can help you live a longer and healthier life. And with all the extra heart and brain benefits you get from The Bubbly, it’s a good idea to drink some even if it isn’t a special celebration.

So how do you choose a champagne that packs plenty of polyphenol punch?

The first thing you want to remember is that even though the word “champagne” usually refers to all sparkling wines, actual champagne only comes from France. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other wines like champagne. You can also try a sparkling white wine from California, which is made the same way champagne is made in France. Or you can try champagne’s sexy cousins, Spumante from Italy and Cava from Spain.

• Champagne – The best champagne is not made every year, but only when the wine is good enough. Those champagnes have a “vintage,” or year they are made, and are very expensive, like the famous Dom Perignon or Cristal.

These expensive champagnes are also very “dry,” which means they have a slight bitterness… but that bitterness is good. It comes from very high polyphenol content. Don’t worry, though. Sweeter champagnes – ones that are less dry-tasting – are still plenty healthy.

• California sparkling white wine: You only get the health benefits from real “sparkling” wine. That’s because the real sparkling wine gets its bubbles from natural fermentation in the same style they use in France. If a wine is artificially carbonated like soda, the label will say the wine is “effervescent” instead of sparkling.

Spumante – Like French champagne, this kind of Italian sparkling wine is only made in one region of Italy. You may have heard of Asti Spumante, a popular brand. Spumante is lighter and less bubbly than champagne, and less expensive. Also, it’s best if you drink it within three years of the vintage.

Cava – Made exclusively in Northeastern Spain, Cava is made the same way as French champagne, but from Macabeo grapes. It’s fruitier than other sparkling wines, and its bubbles last longer.

On The Web: If you would like to learn more about sparkling wines, here are some websites to visit:

1. Snooth: You’ll find better wines listed here.
2. California champagnes: Get information on the wineries that make California sparkling wines, and where to get the best buys.
3. Wine Spectator: Check out this popular wine magazine that has news, rating and tips on finding what you want.
4. Decanter: Here’s another good Web wine magazine with videos, ratings and a “wine finder” search bar.
5. Robin Garr’s Wine Lovers Page
6. Joe Roberts’ “One Wine Dude”

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD signature

Al Sears, MD

1 Dudley, J.I., Lekli, I., Mukherjee, S. et al, “Does white wine qualify for French paradox?” J. Agric. Food Chem. Oct. 22, 2008;56(20):9362-73
2 Vauzour, David, et al, “Moderate Champagne consumption promotes an acute improvement in acute endothelial-independent vascular function in healthy human volunteers,” British Journal of Nutrition 2010; Volume 103, Issue 08
3 Vauzour, David, et al, “Champagne Wine Polyphenols Protect Primary Cortical Neurons against Peroxynitrite-Induced Injury,” J. Agric. Food Chem. 2007;55(8)2854–2860
4 Boyer, J.C., Bancel, E., Perray, P.F., et al, “Effect of champagne compared to still white wine on peripheral neurotransmitter concentrations,” Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res. Sept. 2004;74(5):321-8
5 Teyssen, S., Lenzing, T., González-Calero, G., et al, “Alcoholic beverages produced by alcoholic fermentation but not by distillation are powerful stimulants of gastric acid secretion in humans,” Gut Jan. 1997; 40(1):49–56