Polyphenols and their potential health benefits are discussed in Whiskey: Are There Health Benefits?

Scottish malt whisky, unlike other beverages such as red wine, tea or coffee, has received little attention with regards to its phenolic plant phytochemicals.

The pure distilled spirit is aged in oak barrels for a number of years.The wood’s flavour, colour and taste are determined by its aging spirit.Many of the barrels used to age whisky were made from American white oak wood with significant amounts of ellagitannins.The ellagitannins of the wood are changed in the process of making a barrel for the production of whisky.During toasting or charring of the barrels, oxygen is absorbed through the wood and oxidizes the dissolved phenolic compounds.There is a mixture of products resulting from a complex chemical process.The non-volatile components of whisky are known as whisky congeners, they are not found in the freshly distilled spirit but are a result of the long aging of good whisky.A range of these compounds were isolated from commercially bottled Japanese whisky.A range of whiskies of both Japanese and Scottish origin were found to contain ellagic acid, gallic acid and lyoniresinol.The three compounds only made up 20% of the juice tested, suggesting there are other compounds involved.

Unlike other popular beverages, whisky has not been studied about the effects of these plant chemicals on humans.One of the few studies on the subject, carried out at my own Rowett Institute, looked at the concentration of compounds in the blood of volunteers after drinking either red wine or a 12 year old malt whisky.Surely one of the more difficult nutrition studies has ever been done.The year 1998.

The rise in total phenols in the blood of volunteers was similar to that of the whisky and red wine.The rise in blood phenols was not caused by the new make of whisky.The levels in the blood were similar between red wine and whisky, but more of the phenolic compounds were absorbed from the whisky than the wine.It could be due to the higher alcohol content enhancing their absorption and the different compounds in wine and whisky.There was no increase in phenols in the volunteers blood.The year 1998.

The volunteers have the sameAntioxidant capacity as drinkers of red wine and whisky.The authors suggest that the greater content of copper in the new make whisky may have caused a decrease in antioxidant capacity of the blood.The aging process of whisky in oak barrels is thought to have an effect on the absorption of the phenolic compounds in the beverage.

A few small studies from Japan hint at what effects the compounds in whisky may have on the body.There was a correlation between the activity of free radicals and how long the whisky had been aged.The same amount of pure alcohol has the same ability to protect E. colibacteria from damage caused by hydrogen peroxide.The compounds isolated from whisky have been shown to have interesting effects.In both isolated cells and in mice, ellagic acids suppressed allergic reactions to allergens.The findings suggest that the compounds from whisky might be beneficial.The compounds from whisky were found to reduce inflammation in immune cells.The treatment of inflammatory disease may be helped by these whisky compounds.The higher the dose of ellagic acid, the less alcohol could be found in the mice.There is a basis for the prevention of alcohol-induced stress by the polyphenols in alcoholic beverages.The activity of the heme oxygenase-1 was increased by the compounds isolated from whisky.This effect only appeared in whiskies that were aged in oak barrels.The lining of the blood vessels is thought to be protected.Moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages appears to reduce some health risks, according to various epidemiological reports.The maintenance of blood vessel function could possibly be contributed to by the up-regulation of this enzyme in the cells lining the blood vessels.The relevance of the potential effects in the concentrations found in whisky are unknown to human health, so these effects should be taken with caution.

Some of the harmful effects of alcohol may be mitigated by the ellagic acid in the gut.It has been shown that there is less irritation to the delicate lining of the gut with whisky.The effect of whisky may be explained by ellagic acid and its radical scavenging action.The less damaging effect of alcohol on the stomach is explained by the fact that ellagic acid protects the lining of the gut.This isn’t to suggest that whisky is good for the gut, but at least its potential negative effects are mitigated by its polyphenols compared to pure alcohol.

The effect of uric acid levels in the blood has been studied.Alcohol increases the level of uric acid in the blood and decreases the amount of urine that leaves the body.For people with high blood uric acid levels who are at risk of gout, alcohol consumption is an important risk factor.Whiskey has been found to lower the levels of uric acid in the blood.It was suggested that this tendency was due to the inhibition of xanthine oxidase.The longer the whisky had been aged, the greater the effect it had on reducing the activity of the xanthine oxidase enzyme.The amount of uric acid in the urine increased by 27% when whisky was used.It was shown that at a moderate level of drinking, whisky have different effects on uric acid than other types of alcohol.It has been suggested that the decreased urate level may be due to the inhibition of the uric acid transporters in the kidneys.Uric acid would be lost into the urine.Caution should be applied, as the research on this subject is rather limited, and this may make whisky a better choice than other drinks for people with high blood uric acid levels or gout.

There is a possibility of a downside to the presence of these compounds in whisky.The metabolism of alcohol can be slowed by the absorption of the same whisky congeners from the oat barrels.The volunteers in the study reported an increase in symptoms compared to vodka.

It is clear that aged malt whisky contains compounds from the oak wood barrels and is shaped by the long maturing of the whisky.Above that pure alcohol would have on its own, these compounds, such as ellagic acid, have the potential to affect the health of those imbibing these spirits.It is not clear how relevant these phenols are to our health.To quote one of the papers.

We don’t recommend drinking whiskey or wine since other beverages such as green tea and oolong tea have many catechin derivatives.If you drink a lot of liquor, you can see the antioxidative activity.There are more epidemiological studies that need to be done to clarify the relationship between liquors and mortality.

It might be an excuse to buy an older, longer matured, fine malt whisky.It’s a good idea to be cautious with drinking to excess.

The call of the Honeyguide is Bourbon, Brandy and Armagnac.

The Perfect Health Retreat has Nitric Oxide and AO+ Skin Probiotics.

I found this on iLaddie Whisky Nerd and commented that it was possibly even nerdier than my usual posts.Excellent.