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Red Wine Benefits And Side Effects

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.

Benefits

Red wine is rich in antioxidants. 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.

Health benefits of red wine are associated with the rich antioxidant content of grapes, including catechin, epicatechin, proanthocyanidins, and resveratrol. (1)

Of these, proanthocyanidins and resveratrol appear to be the most beneficial. Proanthocyanidins may help to prevent heart disease, as well as cancer. (2, 3, 4)

The resveratrol found in grape skins is also produced by certain other plants in response to injury or damage. (5)

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. (6, 7, 8)

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. (9, 10)

Larger amounts of resveratrol would be better provided by choosing an appropriate supplement.

The alcohol content of red wine is also associated with its own health benefits. Most commercial wines contain between 12% and 15% alcohol, which researchers believe may contribute to some of the health benefits associated with moderate use. (11)

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. (12)

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. (13, 14)

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.

Red wine can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. No other alcoholic beverage has been linked with a greater number of health benefits than red wine, and the amount of intake is crucial to realizing those benefits. (15, 16)

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)

Studies indicate that middle-aged men can reduce the risk of suffering a stroke by drinking between one and three glasses of wine 3 to 4 days a week. (21, 22)

Participants in another study drank one to three glasses of de-alcoholized red wine daily, experiencing significant drops in blood pressure. (23)

When researchers compared the mortality rates of wine drinkers and those who used spirits or beer, fewer wine drinkers died of heart disease. (24, 25)

The antioxidant power of red wine has been associated with a decreased risk of many different health conditions. These include lower rates of depression in elderly and middle-aged subjects consuming 2 to 7 glasses of wine weekly (26) and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with study participants drinking 1 to 3 glasses daily (27).

Further, researchers noticed a reduction in insulin resistance noted in patients who drank 2 glasses daily of either regular or de-alcoholized wine for a month (28). All of these attributes have been linked to the antioxidant power of red wine.

Side effects

Because of the alcohol content in wine, health effects can be quickly negated when moderate drinking becomes excessive. Men who drink alcohol excessively are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, even if it’s only one to three days weekly; they also run a higher risk of dying from heart disease (29).

Heavy drinking raises the risk of becoming depressed, though it’s hard to differentiate this from a coping mechanism associated with other life events that can provoke depression (30).

If you are on a diet, you should be aware that red wine has a significant caloric impact on dietary totals, and excessive drinking can lead to weight gain (31).

Red wine can also negatively impact liver health. 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 (32).

Moderate consumption is defined in America and Europe as one to one and half 5-ounce glasses daily for women, and two for men. (33)

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.

Red wine FAQs

With so much contrary evidence on red wine, and so much research to wade through, it can be hard to figure out whether and how to fit red wine into your nutrition routine.

Here are research-backed answers to the most common questions about drinking red wine as part of a routine for health and longevity.

Q: What’s the optimal amount of red wine to drink for health?

Right now, the best and most comprehensive research indicates that the optimal amount of red wine to drink for health is around five to seven drinks per week.

That’s according to the latest research published in 2017 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which examined data from over 300,000 people on the relationship between alcohol consumption (including red wine) and death due to cancer, heart disease, or all-cause mortality—i.e. death due to any cause (34).

The researchers found a distinctive “J-shaped curve” when they examined weekly drinks of alcohol and all-cause mortality.

Compared to people who do not drink at all, light drinkers tend to have a lower risk of death (about a 20% decreased risk), which was optimized at about 5-7 drinks per week.

However, heavy drinkers, or those who engaged in binge drinking on a frequent basis, had a steeply increased risk of death compared to those who never drink.

Q: Can drinking red wine on a regular basis help you live longer?

If you want to live a long and healthy life, research suggests that moderate amounts of red wine could play a key role.

An innovative study from researchers at the University of California at Irvine called the Ninety Plus Study performs regular check-ups on a group of California residents, all of whom are age 90 or older (35).

The researchers have tracked a number of health outcomes, including dementia, disability, and of course, lifespan. The researchers noticed that the members of the 90+ study who drank moderate amounts of alcohol (one or two drinks per day) tended to live longer compared to those who did not drink.

According to the authors of the study, moderate alcohol consumption can fit in as part of a number of longevity-boosting habits, which include things as diverse as moderate exercise, drinking coffee, and spending two hours per day on a hobby like reading, solving crosswords, or wood carving.

Q: Are there people who should not drink red wine?

There are some medical conditions, like liver or kidney disease, that create an obvious reason not to consume any amount of alcohol.

Further, some medications interact with alcohol and can create an unsafe health situation. This include medication for allergies, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, arthritis, and blood clots, blood pressure, to name just a few.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism maintains a comprehensive list, and all prescription medications that interact with alcohol have warnings on the bottle (36).

Beyond these absolute requirements, some research suggests that there are other lifestyle factors that should be considered when it comes to regular red wine consumption.

A study published in 2018 in The Lancet claimed that the healthiest level of alcohol consumption is zero drinks per week, but this factors in worldwide causes of death influenced by alcohol, such as tuberculosis and road deaths (37).

While its findings are not as important for people living in developed countries, the findings nevertheless emphasize that you should keep the rest of your lifestyle in mind when considering red wine as a part of your health routine.

For example, since alcohol is known to have a negative effect on your sleep quality, you might not want to drink red wine if you don’t get home from work until very late, and wouldn’t be able to have a drink until right before bed.

Q: How long does a bottle of red wine last after it’s opened?

Red wine is particularly sought-after as a health beverage thanks to its strong antioxidant properties. But, like all antioxidants, these free-radical fighting abilities start to deteriorate once red wine is exposed to oxygen (or strong heat and light).

That’s partly why red wine is usually stored in cool, dark wine cellars. Once you’ve opened a bottle of red wine, oxygen starts to damage the phenolic compounds in red wine that are thought to be responsible for many of the health benefits.

One study published in 2000 in the journal Food Chemistry provided definitive that increased exposure to oxygen depletes the antioxidant capability of the phenolic compounds in red wine, at least during the manufacturing process (38).

Unfortunately, hard data on the antioxidant activity of red wine as a function of days since uncorking are hard to come by, but most reputable sources toss around a figure of about five days.

One implication of this figure―if correct―is that a standard-sized wine bottle, which contains about five glasses worth of wine, is just about the perfect amount for an individual to go through in a week.

It’s the right dosage for health benefits, and you’ll be able to finish it off before it goes bad.

Q: Are there other ways to get the benefits of red wine without drinking alcohol?

As noted above, there are some people who shouldn’t drink red wine for medical reasons.

There are are plenty of additional social and psychological reasons that people elect not to drink red wine (or alcohol generally), but the good news is that it’s possible to garner the antioxidant benefits of red wine without drinking alcohol.

One of the primary antioxidants in red wine, resveratrol, can be taken on its own as a supplement. For general antioxidant power, there are other compounds like green tea extract and astaxanthin that have proven health benefits when it comes to fighting oxidative damage and inflammation.

Beyond these specific compounds, dark-colored fruits and especially berries are rich in many of the same antioxidant compounds that give red wine its potent antioxidant properties.

Recap

Red wine is a rich source of antioxidants, and beyond just its antioxidant power, it has strong health-promoting effects when consumed in moderation.

The best level of red wine consumption for overall health appears to be right around five to seven glasses per week, though certain subgroups of people, like the elderly, might benefit from intakes closer to ten to 14 glasses per week.

Red wine, and alcohol generally, can interact with certain  prescription medications, and some health conditions, like liver and kidney disease, are not compatible with alcohol consumption.

For many people, though, red wine consumption can fit into a healthy and active lifestyle.

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Author: John Davis