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Are Red Wine’s Benefits Overblown?

red wine tasting

Do you unwind with a glass of wine? Many of us celebrate our important life and career milestones this way. Some of us take it a step further and top off every Friday night with wine. Unlike other alcohol, wine enjoys a bit of a “health halo.” But are the claims about red wine legit or overblown? We’ll go over what’s in red wine and what it really means for your health. Then, we’ll show you how to enjoy red wine in a way that’s kind to your body.

What’s in Red Wine?

OK, let’s get to the bottom of that bottle. Red wine contains between 9 to 16% alcohol. But, there’s definitely more to this boozy drink that sets it apart from all the others. Red wine contains a blend of polyphenols (aka the “healthy” stuff). It has 10 times the polyphenols of white wine. Polyphenols include anthocyanins, quercetin and resveratrol. If this sounds like Greek to you, don’t worry! We’ll tie it all together when we break down each of the following claimed benefits of red wine.

The Breakdown on 5 Red Wine Benefits

CLAIM #1: Red wine helps with heart health.

It’s safe to say the benefits aren’t overblown for red wine and heart health. Several large studies have found a staggering 30–40% lower risk of heart disease for those who drink red wine in moderation. Over 100 studies show that red wine in moderation lowers risk for all sorts of cardiovascular troubles (such as heart attacks, stroke and peripheral vascular disease). Red wine is common in the Mediterranean diet, a diet that gets a lot of good press for helping people live longer lives free from heart disease. Here’s how red wine may help:

  • It keeps your blood vessels clean. One to two drinks of red wine daily can boost HDL cholesterol by 12%. This is the “good” cholesterol that cleans up LDL, the “bad” cholesterol. It does this by sending extra LDL back to the liver where it can be discarded. As a result, there’s less LDL around to potentially clog up arteries.
  • It relaxes your blood vessels. The quercetin in red wine can relax the blood vessel walls, so it can help reduce blood pressure. Lower blood pressure reduces damage to blood vessel walls and improves heart health long term.
  • It protects your heart, blood vessels and body. As you live and breathe, your cells can be damaged by “free radicals,” or unstable particles. Free radicals form when your body converts food into energy, so they’re unavoidable. However, the polyphenols in red wine are antioxidants, meaning they can protect your cells against those free radicals.

CLAIM #2: Red helps with blood sugar control.

This benefit is overblown. A two-year clinical trial of 224 Type 2 diabetics did show that drinking red wine can help improve cholesterol levels and somewhat improve insulin resistance. You have to keep in mind that the participants were also told to eat the healthy Mediterranean diet. It’s not just wine at work here! Studies like this one do not change the American Diabetes Association’s stance on alcohol: Drinking in moderation is fine, but get your health professional’s blessings first.

CLAIM #3: Red wine lowers cancer risk.

This benefit is overblown. The results are mixed for whether red wine can help you beat the odds for getting cancer. It flip-flops from cancer to cancer. For instance, studies show that red wine can reduce the risk for colon cancer but can increase the risk of breast cancer. Overall, the scientific muster isn’t there to say that red wine can lower your risk for cancer. This risk is complex; it involves your genetics, environment, eating habits and lifestyle choices. Whether or not you drink red wine is just one choice.

CLAIM #4: Red wine helps reduce weight.

The benefit is way overblown. But, interestingly, a review of studies looking at alcohol’s effect on weight gain didn’t find a link between the two. Keep in mind, the researchers are studying light-to-moderate intake, which is 1–2 drinks daily. Also, just because drinking red wine isn’t associated with weight gain doesn’t mean it helps with weight loss either. A typical 5-ounce glass of red wine is 125 calories, and these calories can be stored as fat just like any other food.

CLAIM #5: Red wine increases lifespan.

Since 2003, scientists were stoked to discover that resveratrol, a polyphenol in red wine, could help slow down aging in yeast and then mice. Resveratrol could help activate sirtuins, a group of enzymes that helps with DNA stability and repair. This ultimately affects how fast you age. While the findings looked promising in the lab, they didn’t translate into the real world: a large JAMA study found no relationship between resveratrol and risk for chronic diseases or death.

The Takeaway

Red wine benefits for heart health are real, even if the other benefits are overblown. Whatever your reason for drinking wine, more wine is not better than a moderate amount. We know that alcohol is damaging to the body at high doses — most of us get this reminder in the form of a hangover. If you love wine, go for red instead of white. Learn to enjoy wine in moderation, meaning cap your daily intake at one (5-ounce) drink if you’re female and two (5-ounce) drinks if you’re male.

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