Drinking red wine in moderation can bring certain health benefits, such as lowering the risk of developing heart disease; the trick can be respecting that fine line between moderation and excessive use.
Some authorities believe having a glass of red wine daily is both valuable and helpful, while others take the position that it’s overrated.
Numerous studies have been done on the subject, some of which take a close look at health statistics from cultures where the regular consumption of red wine is customary.
The Starting Point for Benefits: High Antioxidant Content of Red Wine
Red wine starts with whole, fresh grapes that are dark in color; these are crushed and fermented to yield a variety of tastes and tints. Types of red wine include Zinfandel, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot noir, and Cabernet sauvignon.
Most commercial wines contain between 12% and 15% alcohol, which researchers believe may contribute to some of the health benefits associated with moderate use. (1)
You may have heard of the “French Paradox,” which refers to the fact that heart disease rates are low in France despite the custom of including generous amounts of foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat. (2)
When it was believed that such dietary habits led to heart disease, experts speculated that red wine provided a level of protection. However, new research clearly shows that reasonable consumption of these foods is not to blame for the epidemic levels of this chronic disease. (3, 4)
It’s much more likely the good heart health enjoyed by the French is a result of living healthier lifestyles, including a higher percentage of whole foods in the diet.
Health benefits of red wine are associated with the rich antioxidant content of grapes, including catechin, epicatechin, proanthocyanidins, and resveratrol. (5)
The resveratrol found in grape skins is also produced by certain other plants in response to injury or damage. (9)
The antioxidant properties of resveratrol have been linked with a number of health benefits; like proanthocynidins, resveratrol may act as a preventive for cancer and heart disease, as well as reducing inflammation and decreasing the risk of blood clots. It also has been shown to extend the life span of test animals. (10, 11, 12)
However, the amount of resveratrol used in lab studies with animals is much higher than what you would get from drinking a glass of red wine; in fact, it would take several bottles of wine daily to match the amount, which would obviously classify as excessive use. (13, 14)
Larger amounts of resveratrol would be better provided by choosing an appropriate supplement.
Lower Risk of Chronic Diseases
Drinking a 5-ounce (150 ml) glass of wine daily decreases the risk of developing heart disease by 32%, but a larger daily dose increases risk. (17)
One of the mechanisms through which red wine positively affects heart health is by supporting blood levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind); it also cuts back on oxidative damage, reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) by as much as half. (18, 19)
Moderate wine consumption appears to be even more beneficial in groups like the elderly, who run a higher risk of developing heart disease. (20)
Participants in another study drank one to three glasses of de-alcoholized red wine daily, experiencing significant drops in blood pressure. (23)
The potent antioxidants in red wine are believed to impart a range of benefits, including:
- Lower rates of depression in elderly and middle-aged subjects consuming 2 to 7 glasses of wine weekly. (26)
- Decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with study participants drinking 1 to 3 glasses daily. (27)
- A reduction in insulin resistance noted in patients who drank 2 glasses daily of either regular or de-alcoholized wine for a month. (28)
- Women drinking moderate amounts of red wine are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. (29)
- Several types of cancer, including prostate, ovary, basal cell and colon, occur less frequently with individuals who consume wine moderately. (30, 31, 32, 33)
The Down Side of Red Wine
Because of the alcohol content in wine, health effects can be quickly negated when moderate drinking becomes excessive. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can get in trouble with red wine if you cross the line:
- Men are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they imbibe excessively, even if it’s only one to three days weekly; they also run a higher risk of dying from heart disease. (34)
- Heavy drinking raises the risk of becoming depressed. (35)
- Red wine has a significant caloric impact on dietary totals, and excessive drinking can lead to weight gain. (36)
- Over 30 grams of alcohol daily (2 – 3 glasses daily) translates to a higher risk of developing liver disease, which can lead to life-threatening liver cirrhosis. (37)
- Regular excessive alcohol consumption can result in alcoholism.
Moderate consumption is defined in America and Europe as one to one and half 5-ounce glasses daily for women, and two for men. (38)
If you’re drinking other alcoholic beverages, those are also counted, so keep in mind this definition is for the total amount of alcohol consumed daily. Most recommendations include taking a day or two off each week from drinking.
Summary: Moderation is the key to realizing the health benefits of red wine, including reducing the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, depression and other chronic disorders.