Fruit of the Vine May Be Tainted with Heavy Metal Contaminants

Yes, wine has lots of health benefits—but there’s a newly identified concern for wine lovers.

A recent British study points out that there are high levels of heavy metal contaminants in many wines, and these are unquestionably not good for your health. Excess intake of metal contaminants is associated with an increased risk for neurological problems, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, while oxidative stress associated with the consumption of metals is known to raise the risk for chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer.

Fruit of the Vine May Be Tainted

In a review of data published in scientific journals, scientists at Kingston University in the United Kingdom looked at the concentrations of hazardous metal ions (including copper, vanadium, manganese, nickel and lead) in red and white wines from 16 countries in Europe, the Middle East and South America. They evaluated them according to a formula devised by the US Environmental Protection Agency called the target hazard quotient (THQ), which measures risk based upon established upper safety limits for toxic chemicals. The researchers found that the majority of wines (both red and white) placed well above the EPA’s level of acceptable risk, based on what an individual would take in from an average daily consumption of one glass of wine (which they measured at 8.5 ounces).

Not surprisingly, levels of contaminants were closely linked with geography. For instance, metal ions in several Hungarian and Slovakian bottles were more than 300 times higher than accepted safety standards. On the other hand, wines from Argentina, Brazil and Italy consistently contained low metal levels, therefore posing no metal-related safety concerns. Scientists don’t know yet exactly how it happens that metal ions work their way into wine and why this varies from country to country, but contributing factors may range from soil and vineyard sprays to yeast, processing and packaging.

These results appeared in the October 29, 2008, issue of Chemistry Central Journal.

Quaff With Care

The wine industry must do more to investigate ways to reduce the presence of alarming metal contaminants in their products, such as posting levels of metal contaminants on labels and introducing steps to remove sources of contamination. In the meantime, toxic metals are hazardous to your health, and you should take precautions to limit your exposure to them, counsels naturopathic physician and regular Daily Health News contributor Mark A. Stengler, ND. If you consume wine regularly, he recommends that you get your blood levels tested by a holistic doctor for toxicity. Some people filter out metals from blood more effectively than others, and this is the most accurate way to determine your personal risk profile.

To safely enjoy the fruit of the vine, Dr. Stengler suggests that you choose organic wines or sip vintages from the countries where metal contaminant levels are clearly documented as low. (As we said above, Argentina, Brazil and Italy have low levels. Data on metal content of US wines is not available.) Or, for more optimal health overall, instead of wine choose fresh grapes and grape juice — rich sources of antioxidants without the alcohol or the worries.