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Can Red Wine Really Burn Fat?

If you've been trying to lose some weight, you may feel like the most stubborn area of your body is your belly. It's completely normal to have belly fat, as it helps protect your internal organs. You may have a little extra padding around your middle, even if you may have the flattest stomach. However, if you have more than a normal amount, it may cause some extra issues to your health.

But, if you've been trying every diet and workout possible without seeing any results, you may want to consider having a glass of wine to help burn the fat from your belly. According to a new study, researchers from Oregon State University exposed human liver and fat cells grown in a lab to extracts of four chemicals found in a dark-red grape native to the southeastern part of the U.S.

Researchers fed a group of mice a diet that was 10 percent fat, and another group of mice a diet that was 60 percent fat. Over the course of 10 weeks, the mice that were fed the high-fat diet developed fatty liver and diabetic symptoms. However, a select group of mice that received grape extracts (about one and one-half cups of grapes a day for humans) had less fat in their livers and had lower blood sugar levels than the mice who didn't get the grapes.

So, should you be eating or drinking this type of grape?

Listen in as Dr. Mike explains the study in detail and if red wine may help you burn away your stubborn belly fat.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: April 10, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Anti-aging and disease prevention radio is right here on RadioMD. Here's author, blogger, lecturer and national medical media personality, Dr. Michael Smith, MD, with Healthy Talk.

DR. MIKE: So, tonight, when I enjoy a nice glass of California red wine, I might burn some fat? Wouldn't that be nice? Come on, now. Let's hold on. I've said this before. There are no miracles. Come on. You've got to exercise. You've got to eat less. We've got to be more active. We've got to eat healthier. You know? Personally, I do well with several small meals throughout the day, but it's nice to see some research pointing to the fact that some of these other adult things we do can be quite helpful. In this case, it's red wine.

Now, that's one glass for women, two glasses for men. I'm not making that up. You know, I'm not saying that because I'm a man I get to drink more. I'm not saying that. Alcoholic beverages—it's been shown that cardiovascular benefit, the overall health benefits, which does come a little bit just from the alcohol, the ethanol, ETOH, ethanol, it's one serving, which is like a beer, a glass of wine, a shot of hard liquor for women and two for men. I mean, that's what we've shown. If you start doing more than that, you get a diminished return.

So, maybe two for women, three for men. How's that? Something like that. I don't know. Okay. So, drinking red wine. I mean, this is what was interesting, too. It's not just the red wine. Even grape juice. Of course, be careful. There are a lot of sugars—a lot of added sugars to grape juice. The point of this study was grapes are really good for us. Even fermented grapes. Even grapes that have been turned into a thing called grape juice. It's the grapes—it's these compounds, antioxidants, in the grapes--the pulp and the skin, they're just great for you. The seed. The grape seed is wonderful for us.

Now, in this case, it's really about the pulp or the skin, but drinking red wine or even grape juice could help overweight people burn body fat as well as improve their overall health according to a new study. The findings suggest that consuming dark colored grapes—and that's true. That's where most of these studies are pointing towards. It's the dark colored grapes, okay? Whether eating them or drinking juice or wine might help people better manage obesity and related metabolic disorders such as fatty liver, which I also found interesting.

Now, this research was done out of Oregon State University where they first exposed human liver and fat cells grown in the lab to extracts of four chemicals found in these dark red grapes. These grapes were native to a variety of grapes, actually, native to the Southeastern United States, even though this was done over in Oregon. One of the chemicals, ellagic acid, proved particularly potent. It dramatically slowed the growth of existing fat cells and the formation of new ones and it boosted metabolism of fatty acids in liver cells. The researchers, then, followed that up by following a group of mice on a diet consisting of about 10% fat and another group, on a diet made up of about 60% fat.

So, taking this first, you know, lab cell culture study. So, they had some liver cells. They isolated 4 key compounds, one of them ellagic acid from dark red grapes from the Southeast. They applied those antioxidants to the petri dishes and there was a decrease in the number and size of fat cells. There was just an increase in fatty acid metabolism. So, that's all good. So, they took that so they had kind of a proof of concept now and they went to the animal model and that's kind of the way you do things. You start in the lab and the animal model and, eventually, humans. So now, they're going to the animal model, which is mice and they make great human models. They fed some of the mice a diet consisting of about 10% fat. That's pretty low. Most humans would not like that. Then, another group, about 60% fat.

I think most of us would like to be in that second group. It's funny, Neil Shay, who is a biochemist who was part of the research. I guess he was the one taking care of the mice at Oregon State University. He actually said, "Our mice like that high fat diet. They overconsume it," is what he said. So, they're a good model for the sedentary person who eats too much snack food and doesn't get much exercise. Yes. I would agree with you Neil Shay.

So, over a period of 10 weeks, the high fat diet mice developed fatty liver, pre-diabetes and even diabetic symptoms, but a select group of that high-fat diet received grape extracts, again, focused on those four key compounds, ellagic acid being the main one. They were given about 1 ½ cups of grapes a day for humans. That's not that bad, right? One and a half cups—I mean, that's maybe a handful or two? I guess it depends on the size of these grapes. So, what they found was this high-fat diet group of mice, remember, they were given these grapes. They accumulated less fat in their livers and had lower blood sugar than those who didn't get the grapes.

So, that's great. I mean, there's a great animal model further confirming the proof of concept that was developed in the cell culture study. The researchers also observed higher levels of proteins that metabolize fat and sugar in the mice that were given red grape extract. So, there's just an overall improvement of fatty acid metabolism. I mean, that's kind of the conclusion here. There are these key compounds, these key antioxidants in dark colored, in this case, red grapes. One, in particular, called ellagic acid, is just improving how the cells in the cell culture study and the mice in the mice study—the animal model study—are metabolizing fats. There's an improvement. Okay.

That's the take home message from this study. By the way, this study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Now, okay. This same researcher, Neil Shay, who talked about the mice liking the fat diet, he goes on to say, "Listen, unfortunately, these plant chemicals are not a weight loss miracle." Awesome. I agree. "We didn't find, and we didn't expect to, that these compounds would improve body weight," he said. "But, by boosting the burning of fat, especially in the liver, they may improve liver function in overweight people. If we could develop a dietary strategy for reducing the harmful accumulation of fat in the liver using common foods like grapes," Shay said, "That would be good news." That's what I really liked about this study was this conclusion.

Red grapes, in and of themselves, are not a weight loss product. So, if you hear a doctor on TV or another doctor on the radio talking about the miracle of the red grape, the next fat burner, no, no, no. What we are learning, though, is there are key compounds in this skin and pulp of, in particular, red grapes—dark colored grapes—that improve fatty acid metabolism, specifically in the liver. When you apply that, then, to a healthy diet and exercise program, then with the improvement of fatty acid metabolism, we could see additional weight loss. That's how this, what I just said, we should write that down because that's how a study like this should be presented in mainstream media. Not a miracle fat burner, but simply something that could aid somebody who is obese or overweight in their weight loss efforts by improving fatty acid metabolism.

Some other researchers went on to say, "We are trying to validate the specific contributions of certain foods for healthy benefits. If you're out food shopping and you know a certain kind of fruit is good for a health condition, wouldn't you want to buy that fruit? Or, maybe the red wine?" So, red wine, grape juice, eating the grape, right? Eating the red, dark colored grape does offer benefits to fatty acid metabolism, specifically in the liver.

So, this cell culture study and this animal model confirming that cell culture study? Proof of concept. Now, we need to study this in humans, specifically the ellagic acid.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.