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Every day, worldwide, wines are consumed enormously. Whether enjoying a glass of wine at home or on a special dinner date, we drink different wines for different occasions.
Mostly we associate wine with romantic dates, but we also see wines as a cultural and social factor. There are annual wine tasting events that gather thousands of people to test quality and taste.
But how much do we know about the health benefits of the wine?
Is red wine really good for my health? Should I be drinking it? How much is too much?
Is the hype about red wine’s health benefits only “good” marketing? A debate over whether the wine is beneficial or not has been going on for quite some time, and opinions are divided.
In science, there are always arguments for and against. Luckily, we can dig deeper to see what researchers are trying to find and confirm.
So, if these are the questions you are asking, I have them for you, the answers backed by science.
Let’s start from the beginning.
The short history of red wine
Many stories and myths surround the history of wine.
Egyptians were the ones who turned winemaking into art. The Greeks and Romans made the wine a popular and inevitable part of everyday life, introducing it to other countries.
For ancient civilizations, the wine was not only an alcoholic beverage. The red alcoholic drink bears a cultural significance for them, as back then, wines were mostly the beverage for the intellectual elite.
We can say that the wine was a part of everyday life in ancient Greece, at the center of their intellectual and cultural life. If we look into language, we can see how the word wine encompasses various meanings. The word symposium means drinking together. The phrase – drinking to one’s health – comes from Greece.
But what have we learned from the ancient Greeks’ habits and traditions? Not all wines taste good, and not all wines will improve in time.
The oldest bottle traces back to approximately 325 A.D. If you are traveling to Germany, you can see the bottle on permanent display at the Historisches Museum der Pfalz (History Museum of the Pfalz).
Benedictines and Cistercians, in particular, were responsible for improving the process of production and taste. The world’s most famous champagne was named after a monk Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715). His methods and techniques are still used today.
Wine became a part of life and culture when the art of winemaking spread to France, Spain, and Germany.
The 17th and 18th centuries brought more exceptional qualities of wine, along with glass bottles with corks.
How is red wine made?
The magic happens when dark-colored or black grapes are crushed and fermented.
The natural chemical balance of grapes enables the fermentation without the addition of acids, water, sugars or enzymes. The sugars in grapes are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide because of yeasts. Apart from the natural process – the fermentation and biochemical development of the fruit, human interaction is included in the overall process.
Depending on the grape varieties, the color of the wine can range from red to brown. The color comes in fact from the pigments present in the skin of the grapes.
Wines are naturally dry and sweetness occurs when the fermentation process of sugars into alcohol is interrupted.
The producer can also add liquid sugars to the wine during the manufacturing process.
Wines that do not contain extra alcohol are referred to as not fortified. Today, some wines do have higher alcohol content through the addition of straight alcohol to the wine.
Where are healthy nutrients in wine?
Polyphenols, the substances found in red wine, combat against harmful bacteria, helping the body to prevent illness and diseases.
There are over 8,000 identified polyphenols found in food. Tea is the richest source of polyphenols, and the second is wine. These chemicals are also found in chocolate, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and different fruit.
Flavonoids, types of polyphenols, which are found significantly in red wine, lower risks of many types of cancer.
Resveratrol, catechin, epicatechin and proanthocyanidins are antioxidants where most of the wine’s health benefits are coming from.
In oriental medicine, resveratrol was used to treat diseases of the blood vessels, heart and liver.
Resveratrol is found in the skin of grapes; in other plants, it is produced as a response to damage or injury. Besides grapes, this antioxidant is found in some vegetables, cocoa, dark chocolate and peanuts.
Resveratrol is typically associated with red wine, and it is believed to be responsible for great cardiovascular health in the French population, despite their poor diets, which include a lot of saturated fat and food high in cholesterol. This is where the expression French Paradox comes from.
Catechins are a type of flavonoids, natural, biologically active compounds found in plants. All these potent antioxidants may help to protect us from free radicals.
According to scientists, five different types of catechins are able to stabilize potentially damaging chemicals.
Damaging unstable chemicals are usually by-products of normal digestion, but they can also develop in our skin and eyes, damaging certain parts of cells, and cellular membranes. Build-ups of free radicals accelerate aging and increase the risks of developing certain illnesses and diseases.
Certain kinds of tea are high in catechins, but we can find them in fruit, chocolate, and wine as well.
Epicatechin is a bioactive compound that enhances muscle growth and strength, improves vascularity, blood flow, and endurance, lowers cholesterol levels and improves brain and heart health.
How can red wine improve our health?
The science behind the wine is quite impressive. Wine is the type of alcoholic beverage that is a common subject of interest in scientific circles. If we take into account the popularity of the beverage, no wonder we have many studies that explore the advantages and disadvantages of health.
I wanted to discover what is hidden behind wine’s health benefits, and this is the result of my research.
Red wine can reduce risks of dementia
According to researchers at Loyola University Medical Center (USA), moderate drinkers are 23% less likely to develop dementia. There are types of normal memory lapses among the older generation, but dementia is a persistent decline in certain intellectual abilities such as memory, language, abstract thinking, and judgment.
“The benefit of moderate alcohol for cognition was seen in both men and women, although the amount and pattern of drinking is very different between the two sexes.”
Red wine can prevent liver diseases
It appears that beer and hard liquor drinkers have more than four times the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease than the wine drinkers, according to a study by UC San Diego School of Medicine.
“In pharmacology, molecular medicine, physician training, clinical trial design and drug development, scientists and researchers here have been working on NALFD and related diseases for a long time. But this is a major step. It creates a single entity able to address every aspect of a global disease that didn’t even exist 35 years ago.”
The important word is – moderation – because while alcohol can prevent liver disease, too much alcohol can cause alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Red wine protects against stroke
A study done by the researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explains that resveratrol raises levels of an enzyme heme oxygenase that protects nerve cells in the brain from damage after a stroke.
“The data suggest a potential intracellular pathway by which resveratrol can provide cell/organ resistance against neuropathological conditions.”
One study showed that drinking 1–3 glasses of red wine per day, 3–4 days of the week, may reduce the risk of stroke in middle-aged men.
Red wine can decrease the risk of heart diseases
More and more studies are focused on determining whether wine can help to decrease the risks of heat-related illnesses.
Scientists use something called a J-shaped curve to explain the relationship between wine intake and decreased risk of heart disease. This is a graph that helps scientists see the connection between certain risk factors, in this situation, the risk factors related to the development of heart diseases.
Using this technique, they have concluded that small amounts of red wine may reduce the risk of heart disease because it helps to retain the “good” HDL cholesterol in the blood. Another conclusion was that oxidative damage and the “bad” LDL cholesterol may also be reduced by up to 50% in people who consume a moderate amount of wine.
In fact, small amounts of red wine seem to be linked to more health benefits than any other alcoholic beverage, which health benefits the scientists have been researching.
“The cardioprotective effect of wine has been attributed to both components of wine: the alcoholic portion and, more importantly, the alcohol-free portion containing antioxidants.”
According to this study, consuming 2 to 3 glasses of dealcoholized red wine per day lowers blood pressure. On the other hand, it’s crucial to understand that higher intake increases the risk of heart disease dramatically.
“Heavy or binge alcohol consumption unquestionably leads to increased morbidity and mortality.”
The conclusion? The secret is a balance.
Red wine can prevent type 2 diabetes in women
A study conducted on 36 527 adults aged 40-69 brings evidence that red wine could have a positive impact on reducing the risks of developing type 2 diabetes.
“Total alcohol intake was associated with reduced risk only in women. Alcohol from wine was associated with a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes.”
“A high daily intake of alcohol, even on only 1-3 days a week, may increase the risk of diabetes in men.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million Americans have diabetes; 1 in 4 doesn’t know.
Red wine can raise the levels of omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for our organism, and they have all sorts of powerful benefits to our brain. These healthy fats are linked to the reduced risk of macular degeneration and heart-related diseases.
For women, especially during pregnancy, it is essential to keep the right level of omega-3 fatty acids to ensure brain growth and development in infants as well as to decrease the risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Omega-3s can fight inflammation and autoimmune diseases, which is also important during pregnancy.
According to a study, drinking red wine can effectively provide the necessary omega-3 fatty acids and raise their levels than eating oily fish.
The research showed that moderate wine drinkers could have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. With higher levels of omega-3s in the blood, the risk of developing coronary heart disease is decreased.
Red wine can help decrease the risk of depression
Depression is a real illness and it can affect people in different ways. Untreated depression can result in weight gain or loss, insomnia, which is the most common problem, or an increased need to sleep, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. It can turn into more difficult mental disorders.
But, depression is treatable.
Although it is not rare to use alcohol to treat mental problems and issues, unlike other alcoholic beverages, moderate consumption of wine can bring positive results and prevent depression.
Two studies showed that middle-aged and older people who drank 2–7 glasses of wine per week were less likely to become depressed. However, there’s a consideration:
“Moderate consumption of wine may reduce the incidence of depression, while heavy drinkers seem to be at higher risk.”
Thus, while wine can help prevent mental illnesses and depression, heavy drinkers are at risk of increasing the symptoms of illness and developing more severe problems and conditions.
Red wine can slim risks of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is an age-related bone thinning, which is related to calcium loss.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that women who drank one to three glasses of wine had higher bone mineral density. Moderate drinkers, according to a report published in the American Journal of Nutrition that tested around 500 elderly women, have 12 to 16 percent higher bone mineral density than nondrinkers.
Finnish scientists tested 143 men aged 54-63 to see the effects of wine on bone mineral density and compared to nondrinkers, the men who drank a glass or two a day showed signs of higher bone mineral density.
Red wine can help protect the skin from sunburn
Flavonoids in wine are the compounds that help protect our skin.
When UV rays hit human skin the result is seen in oxidizing fats, DNA, and other molecules. Once this occurs, other enzymes are stimulated and can harm skin cells. Antioxidants in red wine play an important role in preventing oxidative stress.
Scientists from the University of Barcelona have discovered that drinking wine can help to lessen the effects of ultraviolet rays and protect the skin from severe sunburn.
Red wine can prevent blindness and eye diseases
Given resveratrol is responsible for stopping the growth of the blood vessel, it can prevent age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, the researchers at Washington University School of Medicine concluded.
A great deal of research has identified resveratrol as an anti-aging compound.
A study of 1,379 individuals in Iceland, which was published in Nature, found that moderate drinkers are 32 percent less likely to get cataracts than nondrinkers.
Red wine can help to slow down the aging process
We can say that red wine promotes longevity.
A Finnish study of 2,468 men over a 29-year period, which was published in the Journals of Gerontology, found that wine drinkers have a 34 percent lower mortality rate than beer drinkers.
Another in vitro study conducted by the researchers at Harvard Medical School showed that resveratrol is linked to increased health and longer life span.
Red wine plays an important role in protecting against prostate cancer
The study shows that men who drink an average of four to seven glasses of red wine per week are 52% as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
The researchers believe that compounds resveratrol and flavonoids are responsible for this protective role. More research is needed to prove the findings.
Red wine can prevent breast cancer
Unlike most alcoholic beverages, red wine can help to prevent breast cancer, according to the researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
The scientists found out that chemicals in the seeds of red grapes can reduce estrogen levels in premenopausal women, increasing their testosterone levels. This seems to be the perfect condition for lowering the risks of developing breast cancer.
“If you were to have a glass of wine with dinner, you may want to consider a glass of red,” said Chrisandra Shufelt, MD, one of the study’s co-authors. “Switching may shift your risk.”
The authors of the study explained that eating red grapes would have the same positive effects.
Red wine can protect against lung cancer
Unfortunately, lung cancer is the most common cause of death around the world. It is also newly diagnosed cancer. This makes the matter more devastating given that smoking is the most common cause and what percentage of smokers is increasing every year.
However, different causes can increase the risks, although tobacco smoking is the most common factor for the disease.
This is the founding of the first meta-analysis that examines the separate effects of alcoholic beverages on lung cancer risk:
“An antioxidant component in red wine may be protective of lung cancer, particularly among smokers,” according to Chun Chao, Ph.D., one of the authors of this study.
Red wine can prevent bowel cancer
The compound responsible for decreasing the risk of developing bowel cancer is resveratrol.
Drinking two glasses of red wine a day can reduce the rate of bowel cancer by around 50%, according to scientists from the University of Leicester.
“It’s a fascinating study but we need much more research to understand all the pros and cons of someone taking resveratrol to prevent bowel cancer.
However, we do know that keeping a healthy weight along with a balanced diet low in red and processed meat with lots of fiber, including fruit and vegetables, can stack the odds in your favor to lower your risk of developing the disease.”
Red wine can improve short-term memory
Once again, the magic compound behind these health benefits is resveratrol.
Wine can improve problem-solving and reasoning skills, researchers showed in a study. It appears that light and moderate drinkers showed less memory decline than non-drinkers.
Resveratrol seems to impact the portion of the brain associated with the formation of new memories and learning.
Red wine could help burn fat
It seems that a certain type of red wine, Red Muscadine, native to the southeastern US, contains ellagic acid that could help with weight loss.
Apart from this type of wine, ellagic acid is found in raspberries, blackberries, walnuts and pecans and green tea. One study showed that ellagic acid could prevent the development of cancer cells.
This is promising news; however, a study from Oregon State University tested the impact on the fat cells on overweight mice. More research is needed to be able to show that rare red wine can be beneficial to humans.
How much red wine should you drink?
This is how the alcoholic drink is explained, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
One drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof (40% alcohol) distilled spirits. One drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol.
When women and men drink the same amount of alcohol, women will have a higher BAC (blood alcohol concentration) because they are less tolerant of alcohol than men.
The low tolerance has nothing to do with the body weight or size, as scientists used to believe. The main reason women are less tolerant is that they have a higher fat content than men and fat does not absorb any alcohol.
In Europe and America, this is considered to be:
1–1.5 glasses a day for women
1–2 glasses a day for men
How much red wine should you drink?
Drink in moderation – this is the best answer scientific research can provide.
For women, this means one drink per day, and for men, two drinks or less. One drink is considered 5 ounces of wine.
This, however, doesn’t mean you should drink every day a glass of wine, 2 to 3 times a week is considered moderate consumption.
Negative Health Effects of Drinking Alcohol
The harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths every year, representing 5.9% of all deaths.
Alcohol consumption is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. Overall, 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury is attributable to alcohol.
If you are a moderate drinker, you already get all the benefits from the wine. However, consuming too much wine can cause devastating effects on your body and mind.
There is a strong reason why wine sometimes gets a bad reputation. Let’s explore what can happen if we know no balance.
As of 2013, alcohol dependence is classified as alcohol use disorder in which an individual is both psychologically and physically dependent upon alcohol consumption. This is one of the main causes of various diseases and disabilities in many countries.
A glass of wine can help with depression, but a bottle can contribute to major depression. Heavy drinkers are at a much higher risk of triggering other mental illnesses.
People drink intentionally when stressed to improve mood and relieve anxiety. It may provide temporary relief, but it can worsen overall mental health. Above all, alcohol intake and depression are interdependent.
“Individuals with different drinking motives show distinctive patterns of alcohol use and problems. Drinking to cope, or endorsing strong coping motives for alcohol use, is particularly hazardous. It is important to determine the unique triggers associated with coping drinking.”
Yes, alcohol can decrease the risk of premature death, but at the same time, the third leading cause of premature death is alcohol abuse. Traffic crashes, accidents, chronic diseases and various social problems often have a cause in over-consumption.
If you drink 2–3 glasses of wine each day, you are at risk of developing liver disease.
“Chronic intake of large quantities of alcohol causes damage to many organs, the liver being the most often affected one. In advanced countries, mortality due to liver diseases is directly proportional to alcohol consumption. ”
The last stage of liver damage, cirrhosis, is life-threatening.
Energy content in 1 gram of alcohol is 29 kJ or 7.1 kcal.
If you think sugary drinks have more calories, think twice. Red wine contains twice the amount of calories as soft drinks and beer. Excessive consumption can easily wreak havoc to your metabolism and you can quickly gain weight.
According to a study:
“Heavy alcohol intake contributes directly to weight gain and obesity, irrespective of the type of alcohol consumed.”
Remember: alcohol is the second most energy-rich nutrient after fat.
As long as you don’t drink more than 1-2 glasses per day, you will maintain your weight and reap health benefits.
Moderate consumption is the key if you want to experience health benefits from red wine.
Wine is the sixth most-consumed drink in the world. The results so far are promising, but more research is needed to clarify the benefits of red wine.
You can still enjoy wine if you consume it in moderation.
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Last article update: 12/18/2019