Are red wine health benefits true or just a myth?

Written by Giovanna Caravetta, contributor for The Italian Wine girl

We have all seen the attention-grabbing headlines: “New study shows red wine is good for your heart,” or “Why you should be drinking more red wine,” but does the research actually confirm these statements? Although drinking red wine does prove to have its various health benefits, the correlational research being used to make a great deal of these overarching generalizations does not convey the entire story. As we delve deeper into the truth, we will unearth the benefits associated with drinking red wine, the myths that have been perpetuated, and how this should inform our consumption of wine.

Giovanna Paternoster, Quarta Generazione winery showing a berry of Aglianico grapes

On antioxidants and polyphenols

At the most basic level, red wine is known for being a source of antioxidants; these antioxidants act as polyphenols, which can protect the lining of certain blood vessels in the heart. The main polyphenol in wine, resveratrol, comes from the skins of the grapes, and it is found in higher concentration in red wine. According to a 2017 article from Medical News Today, resveratrol is garnering popularity because it “may boost heart health, protect against some kinds of cancer, and prevent some types of vision loss.” 

Additionally, researchers at Mayo Clinic further elucidate the connection between resveratrol and heart health in their assertion that antioxidants “may increase levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol) and protect against cholesterol buildup.” This expounds upon the positive health attributes associated with red wine, but these sources only say resveratrol may help, so why is there doubt? As we continue to break down the various benefits and myths next, we will see exactly where certain factors leave room for error.

Benefits of drinking red wine

Now that we have examined resveratrol as a fundamental component to the healthfulness of red wine, let’s break down a few of the benefits that are associated with the consumption of red wine.

Drinking red wine leads to a reduced risk of heart diseases

According to Mayo Clinic, the alcohol and antioxidants (in the form of resveratrol) are known to help prevent coronary artery disease, which is a condition that leads to heart attacks. Additionally, the combination of alcohol and resveratrol in red wine is responsible for raising the levels of “healthy” cholesterol, reducing the formation of blood clots, and preventing artery damage.

Red wine helps protect against cavities

In a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers discovered that grape seed extract helps in the prevention of cavities. After they dipped various cultures of bacteria—the ones responsible for dental diseases—into different liquids, the researchers found that red wine was the most potent when it came to removing the bacteria cultures and slowing their growth.

Red wine boosts fertility in women

Research conducted at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2017 has uncovered that drinking at least one glass of red wine a week boosts fertility in women. The study analyzed how alcohol affects the quantity, health, and viability of a woman’s eggs, and they concluded that consuming five or more glasses of red wine in a month had only positive effects on women’s fertility.

Red wine helps to diminish the risk of dementia

A molecule of resveratrol

A study published in 2011 by the Oxford Academic journal Age and Ageing found that “alcohol consumption…is significantly associated with lower incidence of overall dementia.” Through their three-year study with 3200 adults older than 75, researchers came to the conclusion that certain alcohol consumption has a “protective effect” against dementia, due greatly to the resveratrol antioxidant in red wine. A 2015 study published in the Alzheimer’s Association journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia discovered that resveratrol could help slow Alzheimer’s disease.

What does the research actually say?

 As we just evaluated the benefits of drinking red wine, it is important to assess whether these research conclusions actually show a cause and effect relationship—or if they are just a correlational finding we have come to accept as a myth.

The point is that the amount of resveratrol in red wine is not statistically significant. 

According to the data collected in a study published in Advances in Nutrition in 2016, there are only approximately 2 mg/L of resveratrol in red wine, and the recommended therapeutic dose is 1 g/day.  With that in mind, for red wine to demonstrate any noteworthy effect in a person’s overall heart health, cognitive functioning, or physical well-being, they would need to drink an exorbitant amount of red wine; this would, quite obviously, produce negative outcomes on the consumer. Furthermore, as this study concludes, this recommended dose of resveratrol, which is also found in foods like peanuts, chocolate, tomatoes, grapes, etc., cannot be achieved solely by the consumption of these products.

Why does moderation matter?

That being said, moderation is key—as is the case with the consumption of all types of alcohol. Moderate drinking, what is considered to be the safest bet for reasonably healthy men and women, is defined as two drinks per day and one drink per day, respectively. If we use this as a guidepost, then red wine is certain to have inherent health benefits that will prove to be beneficial to our heart and general wellness over time.

Although resveratrol has proven to be a significant indicator of healthfulness, the low quantities in red wine do not appear as instrumental as we might hope they would be. Certainly, red wine does have its added health benefits—those of which are reason enough to continue consuming this unparalleled beverage. Slight progress is still progress, and I would venture that most everyone can agree that savoring a glass of red wine does prove to exhibit some sort of benefit to their health—even if that benefit is just to one’s peace of mind.

Overall, those who drink a reasonable amount of red wine, when coupled with positive eating habits, seem to have a lower risk of heart disease and some degree of improved heart function. However, more research is required in order to determine if the previous studies that have been conducted exaggerate these effects or if red wine is more heart healthy than any other forms of alcohol. That being said, red wine is a masterful work of art—as is all wine—and it deserves to be consumed with appreciation of its healthfulness.

ABOUT GIOVANNA

As an Italian-American, Giovanna is mesmerized with the food, wine, language, and culture of Italy. While in college, she spent a semester studying and living in Florence, and her passion for la dolce vita and love for all things Italy grew exponentially. During her time in Florence, she studied pairing food and wine, and she became enamored with the way that wine amplifies and accentuates the flavors of different foods. With a heart for authenticity, she strives to share her perspective on the significance of truly dynamic food and wine pairings

Giovanna Caravetta

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