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Danger may lurk in some foreign wines

October 30, 2008 |  2:05 pm

Wine1Many red and white wines from Europe contain potentially toxic levels of heavy metals, according to researchers from Kingston University in London.

The study examined wines from 16 countries in Europe, South America and the Middle East for their Target Hazard Quotient, a measure designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine safe levels of frequent, long-term exposure to various chemicals. A THQ over one indicates a health risk.

The study, published today in the open access Chemistry Central Journal, found that typical wines had a THQ ranging from 50 to 200 a glass and some wines had a THQ of 300 a glass. In comparison, THQs for heavy metal contamination in seafood have typically ranged from one to five.

A single glass of wine with a high THQ isn't harmful, noted a co-author of the study, Declan P. Naughton. But drinking a glass or two a day for many years could be hazardous. The minerals with the highest impact were vanadium, copper and manganese, but high levels of lead, zinc, chromium and nickel were also found. An excess intake of metal ions is thought to contribute to some neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, and some inflammatory diseases, such as cancer.

The only countries with safe wines that were examined in the study were Argentina, Brazil and Italy.

Though mild or moderate intake of red wine has been linked to health benefits (due to the antioxidants in wine), this finding suggests those advantages may be outweighed by potential harm from wines with heavy metals, the authors said.

"Levels of metal ions should appear on wine labels, along with the introduction of further steps to remove key hazardous metal ions during wine production," they said.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times