Is Red Wine Good for You?
Merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon—is it a matter of naming your favorite or picking your poison? While it seems that, in the world of alcohol, red wine has long held a VIP pass for its health benefits, more and more research appears to indicate that no amount of alcohol is actually good for you.
For example, a bombshell report from the New York Times contended that previous studies indicating moderate alcohol consumption had benefits were flawed, leading some experts to discourage any alcohol intake. Notably, Canada changed its public health guidance in January 2023 to limit alcohol to two drinks per week.
On the other hand, others maintain that a glass of Syrah here or there could still be beneficial, pointing to years of research on the connection between red wine and reduced inflammation.
All the back and forth has left many red wine enthusiasts wondering where their beloved beverage falls in the mix. So is red wine good for you, or just another happy hour drink? We're digging into what current research has to say. Also, if you're curious about the possible effects of other alcoholic drinks, be sure to check out What Happens to Your Body When You Take Shots of Alcohol.
The benefits of red wine
For decades, red wine has been lauded as a preventative tonic against various diseases. As part of the traditional Mediterranean diet, it has especially been associated with heart health benefits.
"Red wine is high in the antioxidant resveratrol, which some studies have shown may protect blood vessels and lower LDL or 'bad' cholesterol," notes Bianca Tamburello, RDN, on behalf of FRESH Communications. According to the Mayo Clinic, red wine's potential to reduce bad cholesterol could help prevent coronary artery disease, a top risk factor for heart attacks.
Red wine also outshines other alcoholic beverages for its antioxidant content, boasting 10 times more polyphenol antioxidants than white wine. This is because the grapes are soaked longer, according to Tamburello. This is a serious leg up compared to some alcohols, like vodka, which has no antioxidants. In general, a higher-antioxidant diet helps reduce inflammation. This could trickle down to benefits, like reducing the risk for oxidative stress-related diseases—including some cancers.
Plus, some research has linked moderate red wine intake to better gut health. A 2018 study found that its polyphenols might act as prebiotics, feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome. Another study from 2020 revealed that drinking red wine was associated with increased diversity in the microbiome.
Some drawbacks of drinking red wine
Before you knock back a glass of nightly merlot, the question remains whether red wine's benefits outweigh its risks—and this drink does have 'em. Of course, there's alcohol's "empty" calories, which can add up quickly to weight gain. And, for some, a regular drinking habit can become a slippery slope toward overconsumption and alcohol use disorder.
Additionally, the more you drink, the greater your chances of developing some diseases. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that there is a clear pattern between alcohol consumption and cancers of the head, neck, breast, esophagus, liver, and rectum. (However, the NCI notes that research has not correlated drinking red wine in moderation with prostate or colorectal cancer.)
Heavier drinking can also lead to pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Red wine isn't specifically associated with these effects, but if it's your drink of choice when overconsuming, its antioxidants won't counterbalance the risks.
The bottom line
Ultimately, red wine's potential upsides for health aren't dramatic enough to take up drinking.
"If you don't currently drink wine or alcohol, it's not recommended to start," says Tamburello. "The risks of drinking alcohol outweigh the possible benefits."
Her recommendation for getting more heart-healthy antioxidants? Eat more whole foods high in resveratrol, like grapes, blueberries, and cranberries.
Then again, Tamburello also claims that a glass of red wine enjoyed here or there as part of a social occasion or celebration can be part of a balanced diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines "moderate drinking" as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. If you currently imbibe, be sure to stick to these limits.
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