For years now, winos around the world have been rejoicing in the news that red wine is actually healthy. It's certainly a long-standing rumour – one that's nice to believe – and while there is some merit to the belief that a glass of red wine can be beneficial to your health, the facts regarding the alleged advantages of drinking wine are not so black and white.
It's true that studies have shown that wine consumption in particular is linked to better cardiovascular health, with those consuming one glass per day showing a decreased risk for high blood pressure, specific types of cancer (such as colon, ovarian, and prostate cancers), and diabetes. Still, while research does indeed seem to suggest that there are some benefits to consuming moderate amounts of wine, there is some confusion as to exactly which elements of the drink are responsible for which benefits, and whether or not these benefits are unique only to wine (or shared by other drinks/foods like beer, spirits, and even non-alcoholic grape juice and grapes).
With this in mind, here is a summary of some of the components of wine and their attributed health benefits.
Resveratrol, a polyphenolic antioxidant abundant in red wine, may be one of the reasons that red wine has been observed to benefit the cardiovascular system more than white wine (and perhaps other types of alcohol). Resveratrol has been linked to a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, inhibiting LDL (the bad kind of cholesterol), increasing HDL (the good kind of cholesterol), and reducing inflammation and blood clotting in animal studies. In addition to its cardiovascular benefits, resveratrol has been shown to help suppress the growth of some tumours, and has also displayed the ability to reduce the incidence of mental decline related to ageing, as well as prolonging longevity. Resveratrol has also exhibited some antiviral and antifungal effects.
Quercetin is a flavanol present in wine that displays some antioxidant activities. Some studies have shown that it exhibits some protective effects against certain types of cancers (specifically colon and liver cancer) by neutralizing free radicals and inducing apoptosis (cell death) in certain cancer cells.
Procyanidins, which are condensed tannins, are what gives wine its red colour. They, like quercetin, act as powerful antioxidants, and have been shown to lower LDL (bad cholesterol levels), help with cell signalling, and reduce inflammation and clotting, earning them a strong reputation as protectors against heart disease.
One exciting new animal study has shown that ellagic acid, an extract from Pinot Noir Grapes used in the making of wine, helps with weight loss by curbing the amount of fat storage in the liver, and also reducing blood sugar.
components (such as resveratrol, quercetin and ellagic acid) were conducted on animals, so we can't know for sure if the observed benefits also apply to humans. In addition, some of the studied components, like ellagic acid, were tested as extracts separate from wine, making it possible for other ingredients in wine to override their observed effect (it's entirely possible, for instance, that the calories and sugar in wine would negate some of the weight-loss benefits apparently provided by ellagic acid). It's also possible that the benefits observed in human studies were due to a mix of elements in the red wine, and not specifically due to individual ingredients. It's also important to remember that more research is needed in order to discern whether red wine truly boasts more benefits than other alcoholic beverages like beer, which have also been shown to have heart-healthy benefits.
Doctors generally don't recommend that you begin drinking everyday just to prevent disease (there are probably other better ways to combat health issues), but if you already drink wine, there's nothing wrong with doing so in moderation – which means one 5 ounce glass per day for women, and 2 for men. Research has indeed linked red wine (and some other types of alcohol) to certain health benefits - but if you drink more than the recommended daily amount, the possible advantages of consuming wine will be negated by the health risks associated with alcohol.
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DENG X-H, SONG H-Y, ZHOU Y-F, YUAN G-Y, ZHENG F-J. Effects of quercetin on the proliferation of breast cancer cells and expression of survivinin vitro. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine. 2013;6(5):1155-1158.
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Shay N, Okla M, Kang I, Kim DM, Gourineni V, and Chung S. Ellagic acid modeulates lipid accumulation in primary human adipocytes and human hepatoma Huh7 cells via discrete mechanisms.The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2015.