The benefits of red wine go way beyond heart disease.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having said, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.”
Though hopefully our water is cleaner than it was in Franklin’s day, red wine remains an option for those wanting to gain wisdom in their older age. A study that analyzed the research gathered on the subject from 1977 to 2010 found that those individuals who consume moderate levels of alcohol are 23 percent less likely to develop dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of cognitive impairment.
The key was moderation, as those who drank 3-5 alcoholic beverages a day were actually more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment. Those who stayed in the 1-2 drinks per day range, however, experienced benefits that researchers believe are related to alcohol’s ability to improve blood flow in the brain.
The benefits of red wine don’t stop there, however. In fact, some go so far as to draw a parallel between red wine and apples, saying, “A glass of red wine a day keeps the doctor away.”
Good for the Heart
By far, the most research on the health benefits of red wine have focused on the heart. In 1992, Harvard researchers included moderate alcohol consumption as one of the “eight proven ways to reduce coronary heart disease risk.”
This all got started when scientists discovered in the 1990s that French people, who normally consume a high-saturated-fat diet, still had low levels of coronary heart disease. In what has been termed the “French Paradox,” scientists suspected that it was the red wine that made the difference, since it is a prominent part of French culture.
According to the Mayo Clinic, red wine seems to have even more heart-healthy benefits than other types of alcohol, because it has antioxidants called “polyphenols” that may help protect the lining of blood vessels in the heart. The particular polyphenol that’s gotten the most attention is called “resveratrol,” which when isolated, has shown in animal studies to prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce bad cholesterol, prevent blood clots, and even help protect from obesity and diabetes.
The Copenhagen City Heart Study, for example, which studied over 13,000 men and women for 12 years, found that patients who drank wine had half the risk of dying from coronary heart disease or stroke as those who never drank it. Those who drank beer and spirits didn’t experience the same advantage.
Another analysis of 13 studies involving over 200,000 participants found a 32 percent reduced risk of atherosclerosis (artery narrowing) in those drinking wine, which was greater than the 22 percent reduced risk in those drinking beer.
The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make it. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than white wine, it has more resveratrol. This antioxidant is also found in grape juice and blueberries.
Other Health Benefits
Since heart disease is the number-one killer in the U.S., the effects of red wine on the heart are understandably the most researched. Other studies, however, show other benefits from regular, moderate consumption of red wine:
- Prevent Falls: Animal research presented at the American Chemical Society in 2012 showed that resveratrol could help improve senior mobility and prevent falls. Researchers suggested that resveratrol could decrease some of the motor deficiencies seen in the aging population.
- Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease: A study published in the FASEB Journal found that Cabernet Sauvignon helped prevent the generation of proteins that cause plaque build-up in the brain—the main characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Protect Muscles: According to a French study published in 2011, resveratrol can slow muscle deterioration. Researchers speculated that red wine and resveratrol may help to maintain muscle mass and preserve muscle fibers.
- Encourage Sleep: A study from the University of Milan found that drinking red wine may help people get to sleep more easily. Grape skins contain melatonin, which is the hormone that tells the body when it’s time to go to sleep. Wines rich in melatonin include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chianti.
- Reduces Risk of Lung Cancer: Especially among smokers, having a glass or two of red wine each day may reduce risk of lunch cancer. A study from Kaiser Permanente looked at over 84,000 men ages 45 to 69 and found that lung cancer risk was lowered an average of 2 percent for each glass of red wine consumed per month. The greatest risk reduction was found among men who smoked and drank one or two glasses of red wine per day—they had a 60 percent reduced risk.
- Stop Prostate Cancer Growth: Scientists found that red wine polyphenols reduced tumor growth in mice with prostate cancer.
Which Wine is Best?
Though studies are limited in this area, there was one conducted by researchers at the University of California. They tested a variety of wines to determine which had the highest concentrations of health-promoting flavonoids. They found that Cabernet Sauvignon had the best flavonoid content, followed by Petit Syrah and Pinot Noir. Merlots and red zinfandels had fewer flavonoids than the others. White wine also had smaller amounts.
Bottom line: the sweeter the wine, the fewer the flavonoids. Dryer red wines will typically give you the best flavonoid boost.
What is Moderate Consumption?
When researchers are talking about moderate consumption, what is that, exactly? For men, it’s no more than two drinks per day, and for women, no more than one drink per day. A drink is defined as a 5-ounce glass of red or white wine, 12 ounces of regular beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Why are women advised to drink less than men? Women have a higher proportion of body fat then men. Fat can’t absorb alcohol, so it becomes concentrated at higher levels in the blood. Women also have less of a stomach enzyme that metabolizes or breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream, so they can absorb up to nearly 30 percent more alcohol into their bloodstream than men of the same height and weight who drink the same amount.
It’s also important to remember that drinking too much is actually bad for health. Some people with medical conditions, as well, should be cautious.
- Triglyceride levels: Wine can elevate triglyceride levels, which is associated with health problems like diabetes. If you already have high triglycerides, limit your consumption.
- Breast cancer: Alcohol can raise estrogen levels and raise tumor progression in women with estrogen-positive breast cancer, or who are at risk for this disease.
- Headaches: Wine can be a trigger for those who have migraines.
- Weight gain: Remember that alcoholic drinks contain calories.
Do you enjoy red wine as part of a healthy diet?
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Sy Kraft, “Drink Wine to Beat Dementia Risk, But Find the Balance Study Reports,” Medical News Today, August 19, 2011, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232992.php.
“A glass of red wine a day keeps the doctor away,” Yale New Haven Health, http://www.ynhh.org/about-us/red_wine.aspx.
“The health benefits of drinking red wine,” Fox News, March 27, 2012, http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/03/27/health-benefits-drinking-red-wine/.
Mayo Clinic Staff, “Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart?” March 4, 2011, from mayoclinic.com: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/red-wine/HB00089.
Paul E. Szmitko, “Cardiology Patient Page: Red Wine and Your Heart,” Circulation 2005; 111:e10-311, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/111/2/e10.full.
Anthonia Akitunde, “Red Wine May Prevent Senior Falls, Study Finds,” The Huffington Post, August 26, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/red-wine-benefits-senior-mobility_n_1813360.html.
“Red Wine May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s,” Dementia & Alzheimer’s Weekly, http://alzheimersweekly.com/content/red-wine-may-help-prevent-alzheimers.
Kiera Aaron, “Red Wine: The Perfect Postworkout Drink?” Men’s Health News, July 8, 2011, http://news.menshealth.com/can-red-wine-to-keep-your-muscles-strong/2011/07/08/.
“Can’t sleep? Have a glass of red wine,” Mail Online, June 19, 2006, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-391272/Cant-sleep-Have-glass-red-wine.html.
Shari Roan, “Red wine slashes lung cancer risk in smokers,” Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2008, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2008/10/red-wine-slashe.html.
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2010, June 11). Polyphenols in red wine and green tea halt prostate cancer growth, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/06/100609171802.htm.
David J. Hanson, “Drinking: Men and Women are Unequal,” Alcohol Problems and Solution, http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/HealthIssues/1055861926.html.