Nutrition Fox

Health Benefits of Red Wine

It has been a long day of work. Your husband and you have just put the kids to sleep. It is time to crack open that bottle of Château Lagrange given to you at Christmas time and watch some “House of Cards.” There may be more to indulging in red wine that goes beyond pretending to be French and inheriting a small buzz. Alcohol has proven to have a large array of health benefits and negatives. One drink for women and two drinks for men is often what people hear to reap these benefits and avoid the consequences. Once individuals decide to go beyond these recommended numbers, is when they will find themselves regretting their health choices and perhaps even their social choices. I intend to focus on the benefits of dabbling in red wine daily. Anything beyond the recommended dosage usually mirrors the pros with cons. As a writer for a nutrition site, I intend to educate the readers on how to stay healthy with the attribute of being able to have fun. Trust me…this information is BUZZ worthy.

Health Benefits of Red Wine

red wine glass and bottle

First, let’s go over some of the claimed benefits of consuming red wine.

  1. Memory Protection against Alzheimer’s Disease
  2. Cancer Treatment/Prevention
  3. Promotes Long Life
  4. Lowers Risk of Heart Disease 1

One of the big reasons many experts have conducted studies on the health benefits of wine is because it contains polyphenols. Polyphenol is a generic term for the several thousand plant-based molecules that have antioxidant properties. They are known to be beneficial for one’s skin, brain health, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and treatment and prevention of cancer. 2 Polyphenols are usually divided into four categories. The experts who study the health benefits in wine are mainly interested in the phenolic content. Polyphenols have been studied and used as natural remedies for thousands of years. It is not a surprise that researchers would be interested in seeing the benefits of the subset of polyphenols in the wine we drink.

I want to move us along to the first polyphenol we will discuss. This polyphenol is called quercetin. A quercetin is a flavonoid, from the flavonol family, which represents the phenolic content in wine. BEEP BEEP! Alright back it up. I will make this simpler. Remember polyphenols could be representative of thousands of plant-based molecules. Polyphenols – FIRST SUBSET – Phenolic Content – SECOND SUBSET – Flavonoids – THIRD SUBSET – Flavonols – FINALLY…through this we get quercetin. 3

There are a multitude of health benefits from quercetin. It is known to act as an anti-histamine and as an anti-oxidant.

  1. Heart Disease: Flavonoids like quercetin and resveratrol have been seen to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis by reducing LDL’s which in turn reduces plaque buildup in arteries.
  2. Cancer: Quercetin and other flavonoids have been shown to inhibit the growth of certain cancerous cells; particularly in the breast, colon, prostate, and lung.
  3. Cholesterol: Quercetin may reduce cholesterol levels.
  4. Allergies, Hayfever and Asthma: Quercetin inhibits the release of allergic and inflammatory molecules. This is not a primary mechanism of action for quercetin from wine. 4

How much red wine is beneficial? As I said before, one drink for women and two drinks for men is usually recommended by the mainstream. How do we judge a glass? Remember glasses come in different sizes and this doesn’t always mean fill the glass to its brim. The amount of alcohol recommended based on the content of red wine is 5 ounces per glass. 5 I would recommend getting out the measuring cup and finding out how much to pour exactly in your favorite glass. Now that we know how much we should drink, let’s find out, why our bodies will thank us from drinking this stuff.

2 glasses of red wine

Resveratrol This is an antioxidant found in grapes. Antioxidants protect us from well…oxidation. This process can damage our cells. Think of antioxidants as our cells protectors. Grapes are fermented longer, and are fermented with the skins, which gives red wine the color. This is evidence that there is more resveratrol in red wine opposed to other wines. These cell fighting antioxidants may prevent cancer cell growth, including the growth of breast cancer cells, explains the Linus Pauling Institute.6. Now these seem super awesome, but remember the rules of moderation. Alcohol is considered a carcinogen. A carcinogen is a substance capable of causing cancer. The American Journal of Public Health has published much data about the correlation. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol related. 7. Like many aspects of life, there needs to be balance and control. There are possibly more great benefits to resveratrol consumed from red wine in moderation. Resveratrol might be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), protects from obesity and diabetes, and prevents blood clots. 8. These are strong contributors to heart disease. I would like to point out that much of the research done on these issues with resveratrol has been done on animals and not humans. Scientists and health experts will continue to gather research to understand the effect this antioxidant has on our bodies.

Resveratrol does have its skeptics. John Hopkins School of Medicine is one. They completed a study where they assessed a large group of Italians consuming a diet rich in resveratrol. According to the study, they found they do not live longer and are just as likely to develop cardiovascular disease or cancer as individuals who consume smaller amounts of the compound. Dr. Richard D. Semba led the study. “The story of resveratrol turns out to be another case where you get a lot of hype about health benefits that doesn’t stand the test of time,” says Dr. Semba. “The thinking was that certain foods are good for you because they contain resveratrol. We didn’t find that at all.” Further studies need to be done and while improvements have been seen in animals, red wine may not contain a high enough resveratrol. However, even Dr. Semba did not discount the health benefits of red wine as a whole. But though their study yielded negative results, Dr. Semba notes that other studies have shown that consuming red wine, dark chocolate and berries does have protective effects for the heart and reduces inflammation in certain people.

“It’s just that the benefits, if they are there, must come from other polyphenols or substances found in those foodstuffs,” he adds. “These are complex foods, and all we really know from our study is that the benefits are probably not due to resveratrol.” 9

There have been interesting studies done on wine and weight loss. Keep in mind that the recommended 5 ounces of wine for women is 125 calories. This could be up to 250 calories for men. 10This is less than a single can of beer which usually comes up to 150 calories 12 ounce can. 11

red wine bottles

Drinking red wine alone will not do one any favors when it comes to trying to lose weight. However, it did bring up some studies that have discovered interesting findings. An eight-year study of more than 19,000 middle-aged women published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2010 concluded that normal-weight women who drink a moderate amount of alcohol, such as a glass of red wine a day, are less likely to become overweight or obese as they age than women who don’t drink. Similarly, scientists who followed nearly 16,000 middle-aged women in a seven-year prospective cohort study for the Women’s Health Initiative concluded in 2012 that women who drink moderately are more likely to maintain a healthy weight as they age than nondrinkers. The study’s authors went even further, noting that wine protects against weight gain more effectively than liquor or beer. 12

I have good news and bad news for everyone. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. The bad cholesterol is known as LDL cholesterol. The reason it is considered bad is because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. HDL is known as the good cholesterol. This cholesterol basically gives the bad LDL cholesterol a butt whoopin’ and removes the evil LDL from the arteries.  13 The reason I bring this up, is because red wine is often associated with bringing in the good HDL cholesterol and reducing the amount of bad LDL cholesterol. Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel did an interesting study on the matter. They chose 224 people who fit this profile, and who didn’t drink wine currently, then assigned them to start drinking one of three things. At dinner, the people in the study were told to drink five ounces of one of the following beverages: mineral water, dry white wine or dry red wine. Under the guidance of dietitians, they also followed a Mediterranean diet without calorie restrictions—and kept it up for two years. Intermittently, they took questionnaires and were subjected to follow-ups, including blood draws at the start of the study, six months in and at 24 months, so the scientists could look at biomarkers of glycemic control, lipids and liver function. They found that the red wine drinkers had significantly increased their levels of good HDL cholesterol and had a more beneficial cholesterol ratio compared to the group that drank water. 14

The studies among the benefits of red wine will continue. Even the studies that sought how to challenge the notion that red wine was beneficial for specific reasons admitted that there is a correlation between moderate red wine drinkers and good health. As a closing thought, I would like to remind everyone of the importance of following the guidelines of moderation when consuming red wine. Red wine does contain the carcinogen alcohol and there are many negative effects to drinking alcohol in heavy dosages.

red wine pouring in glass

Drinking too much can have a negative effect on the:

  1. Brain
  2. Heart
  3. Liver
  4. Pancreas
  5. Immune System

There is also evidence that it can increase the risk of developing certain cancers. 15

Have fun! Enjoy that glass of red wine with your loved one. Enjoy that glass of red wine while watching “House of Cards.” Just remember to be aware and educated of intake to reap the BUZZ and the benefits.

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Nick L.
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