Over the past week, low levels of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan began reaching the western United States. Despite heavy news coverage, the U.S. has largely avoided the panic-buying seen in other countries of items like salt, seaweed, and … red wine.
Given the short supply of iodine pills, people around the world concerned about radioactive fallout have been buying up other products rumored to protect against radiation. Although the run on salt in China was misguided (an adult would need to swallow over 6 lbs. of it to prevent radiation poisoning), consumers in Russia stocking up on wine were on to something.
As it turns out, several studies indicate that red wine does indeed provide some defense against radiation. The antioxidant Resveratrol may help mitigate the harmful effects of radiation exposure, in addition to its purported roles in cancer prevention and increased longevity.
A 2008 study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine provided the first scientific proof that reservatrol helped protect cells from radiation damage. The finding came from research on small molecules with radioprotetctive capabilities that could be used to develop radiation treatments for the general population in the event of a nuclear emergency. As of 2008, the team hoped to begin clinical trials soon, but I was unable to find an update on their progress.
The original study examined a very concentrated form of acetylated resveratrol, however, and researchers warned that drinking red wine would not provide anywhere near the dosage that they studied. Wine Spectator’s coverage of the issue provides more detail.
Interestingly, another study looked at red wine consumption by women undergoing radiation treatment after surgery for breast cancer. It found that wine intake during radiation therapy was directly correlated with lower rates of skin toxicity (irritation, sensitivity, etc.) The incidence of skin toxicity fell from 38% among nondrinkers to 14% among patients who drank one glass of wine per day.
Red wine has been connected with radiation protection for at least the past few decades. Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, authorities recommended that those exposed should drink more red wine and vodka to boost their bodies’ defenses. Russian sales of both beverages have spiked in the past two weeks. In Bulgaria, where pharmacies recently reported running out of iodine supplements, rumors persist that chili peppers chased by red wine will provide protection. Although there are many antioxidant-rich and resveratrol-containing foods, red wine may be particularly effective due to its combination of resveratrol with alcohol.
While it’s unclear how much protection wine provides against nuclear fallout, it never hurts to pick up a few extra bottles.
This Friday, though, try drinking sake instead. W. Blake Gray is urging people to drink sake as a “Casual Benefit for Japan.”Alder Yarrow, Jon Bonné, and everyone at Terroirist think this is a great idea.