Wine has had a prominent place in different cultures for thousands of years, dating back to around 7000 BC. Wine is most commonly made from grapes but can also be made from rice (sake) and barley, although these two do not undergo the same process as making wine from grapes and are only similar to wine because of their similar alcohol content.
There has been much talk about the health benefits of wine during the past decade. Although many people would like nothing more than for wine to be part of a healthy diet, does wine actually posses any health related properties?
This article will discuss the supposed health benefits of wine and what the available evidence says.
Polyphenols in wine
Polyphenols are found in grapes and wine extract and are known as antioxidants. Due to differences in processing, red wine contains more polyphenols than white wine1. Antioxidants reduce the amount of free radicals in our body. Free radicals are associated with accelerated aging, induce DNA damage that can lead to cancer and damage healthy cells.
The alcohol in red wine and its polyphenols help to maintain healthy blood vessel walls by encouraging the formation of nitric oxide (NO), which regulates vascular tone2. Nitric oxide is also responsible for decreasing the adhesion of inflammatory cells to the walls of blood vessels, protecting against vascular injury and decreasing the production of platelets, which play a key role in blood clotting2.
Wine and heart disease
The most widely discussed benefit of drinking wine is the positive effect it can have on heart disease. The Copenhagen Heart Study, which followed 13,000 individuals, found that as alcohol consumption increased coronary risk decreased, but only for wine drinkers, and not those that drank beer and/or spirits3.
People that drink wine often have better lipid profiles. Wine drinkers have higher HDL cholesterol levels (the good kind) than non drinkers4. Wine drinking may also inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the bad type), which reduces complications from atherosclerosis. Oxidized LDL causes more plaque formation in arteries than the regular type of LDL5.
The French Paradox
Perhaps the most cited research showing the health benefits of wine is The French Paradox5. The French Paradox refers to the fact that French people have low incidence of coronary heart disease despite their high intake of saturated fat, which is a known risk factor for heart disease. Many have come to the conclusion that the moderate daily consumption of wine may be the factor responsible for the lower rates of coronary heart disease.
Should I start drinking wine if I do not already?
The answer to this questions is no. Many of the studies showing health benefits of wine are epidemiological studies, which analyze wine consumption and health benefits by observing a population of people. In order to confirm these findings more randomized controlled trials (the “gold standard” of studies) need to be completed.
- There are known health benefits associated with drinking wine.
- Wine contains polyphenols, which play a role in reducing free radicals in our body and decreasing DNA damage that could cause cancer.
- Wine may reduce heart disease by decreasing risk of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries) and improving the lipid profile (increasing good cholesterol).
- The French have low rates of heart disease despite their high intake of saturated fat which is linked to heart disease. Many believe the high consumption of wine in the French confers this heart protection.
- More randomized controlled trials are needed before we can say with certainty that wine offers heart protection.
- Basli, A., Soulet, S., Chaher, N., Mérillon, J. M., Chibane, M., Monti, J. P., & Richard, T. (2012). Wine polyphenols: potential agents in neuroprotection. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2012.
- Szmitko, P. E., & Verma, S. (2005). Red wine and your heart. Circulation, 111(2), e10-e11.
- Aguib, Y., & Al Suwaidi, J. (2015). The Copenhagen City Heart Study (Østerbroundersøgelsen). Global Cardiology Science and Practice, 33.
- Ruf, J. C. (2004). Alcohol, wine and platelet function. Biological research, 37(2), 209-215.
- Vidavalur, R., Otani, H., Singal, P. K., & Maulik, N. (2006). Significance of wine and resveratrol in cardiovascular disease: French paradox revisited. Experimental & Clinical Cardiology, 11(3), 217.
- Guilford, J. M., & Pezzuto, J. M. (2011). Wine and health: a review. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, ajev-2011.