Wine: The Health Benefits Of Drinking Red Wine

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 10:59am

By Rose Giordano

The Italians have a saying: “One barrel of wine can work more miracles than a church full of saints.” While this statement may be difficult to prove, studies suggest it could possibly be true. For a number of years, scientists have been paying a lot of attention to the health benefits of drinking red wine. What are some of the potential secrets to red wine’s miracle cure?

Red wine is rich in antioxidants

Many people have heard that a Mediterranean-influenced diet is beneficial to your health. Why? The theory is that the high antioxidant levels contained in a diet full of fruit and vegetables extinguishes the free radicals and other oxidants which damage your cells and tissues. Similarly, red wine contains antioxidant chemicals that have also been credited with a lowered risk of heart disease. Antioxidants act as a biological “army” to protect the lining of your blood vessels from developing the dangerous fatty plaque that causes atherosclerosis. This plaque is developed from damaged (oxidized) fat molecules that begin collecting within the lining of the blood vessels. Antioxidants sacrifice themselves by taking the place of the tissue and cells so that they are not damaged and can thus continue with their regular metabolism.

Polyphenols benefit your heart

Red wine is rich in a class of compounds known as polyphenols, which can also be found in teas, chocolate, and fruit. These compounds are involved in the quality of the wine because they influence the color, bitterness, astringency, and chemical stability1. Polyphenols have been associated with numerous cardiovascular benefits: they reduce blood clots, relax blood vessels and promote healthy cholesterol metabolism.

In one clinical study, volunteers were asked to drink 12 ounces of red wine daily for two weeks. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that a moderate daily intake of red wine was associated with a slight increase in HDL cholesterol levels as well as an increase in chemicals that act as antioxidants in the blood2. Another research study determined that moderate wine drinkers have lower incidence of hypertension related mortality3.

In a third notable study, researchers took all of the information above one step further and recruited 15 volunteers with coronary artery disease. They asked volunteers to drink 8.5 ounces of red wine everyday for the first two weeks, and then switch to 8.5 ounces of non-alcoholic wine for the next two weeks4. Results of the study showed improved blood vessel functioning after the two weeks of drinking the alcoholic red wine.

Which wines should I drink? And how much is enough?

Researchers at the University of California, Davis tested a variety of wines to determine which ones had the highest amount of polyphenolic compounds. Results of the tests indicated that Cabernet Sauvignon was at the top of the list, with Petit Syrah and Pinot Noir following closely behind.

So how much wine do you need to drink before you can reap these benefits? If a 4-ounce glass is equal to 1 serving of red wine, men should drink 2 servings per day, while women only need 1.

Is the benefit from the grape rather than the alcohol?

Despite all this positive research, some scientists remain skeptical about whether the beneficial qualities of wine can be attributed to the grape extract itself or the alcohol contained in the wine. Nevertheless, there are strong efforts in the scientific community to demonstrate that a moderate intake of red wine is beneficial to your health. Either way, in staying with the Italian tradition, raise your glass and “Salute a cent’anno” (Health for 100 years)!

1 Source: Annals of the New York Academy of Science 2002; 957:146-161

2 Source: British Journal of Nutrition 2005; 93(2): 233-240

3 Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004; 80 (3): 621-625

4 Source: Coronary Artery Disease 2004; 15(8); 485-490