Red Wine’s Health Benefits

Nutrition is a funny field. Not that many years ago, many of the foods that we now know should be avoided like the plague (margarine, liver, artificial sweeteners like cyclamates and saccharin) were touted as healthy or at least de rigueur. And previous bogeymen like eggs, butter, and chocolate are now healthy foods!

But what about wine? Something about red wine has always called to me.  It’s such a useful product! A mood modulator, a food enhancer, and now we know that red wine, being full of anti-oxidants, is also a healthy addition to any diet. But just exactly what are those health benefits? Turns out there are many. (Just make sure you read to the end. With all good things there is a caveat).

Type 2 Diabetes – new research has shown that red wine might help some diabetics regulate their sugar level. The laboratory results were encouraging, with red wine significantly reducing glucose absorption.

Eye Health – anti-oxidants to the rescue again! Red wine can help your eyesight by inhibiting cataract formation and lowering your risk of macular degeneration (age-related).

Arthritis – because red wine is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, it may reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, or reduce the severity of the disease.

Heart Disease – most of the red wine studies we hear about concern heart disease, and there is no doubt that red wine is a beneficial agent for your heart. The same anti-inflammatory affect that reduces the risk of arthritis, reduces the risk of heart disease. Red wine works to reduce the oxidation of LDL that leads to arterial plaque build up. It’s like undercoating your car to prevent or slow down rusting. Red wine is the undercoat, and it helps keep LDL from “rusting” (oxidizing). Rust on your car leads to weak spots that eventually flake off. “Rust” in your arteries does the same thing. Only the flaking can lead to a life threatening heart attack.

Red wine also has an anti-clotting effect on the body. Many strokes and heart attacks are the result of a clot. Red wine helps reduce the stickiness of platelets, and helps reduce clot formation too. Plus, red wine increases HDL levels! Many medical professionals believe that a low HDL level is more dangerous than a high LDL level, so increasing your HDL is always a good thing. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to increase HDL levels. Nuts, olive oil and red wine all work to increase HDL, there’s not much else that does.

Dementia – numerous studies have shown that people who imbibe red wine have a lower rate of dementia and Alzheimers. Red wine drinkers also have higher rates of recall and other brain function as they age.

Cancer – although we primarily think of red wine as a heart healthy food,  it turns out that red wine is also a powerful anti-cancer agent. New studies indicate that red wine, and its powerful anti-oxidant, resveratrol, in particular, may enhance the effects of radiation therapy. An anti-oxidant found in red wine (also parsley, tomato sauce and some other plants) has shown good results reducing ovarian cancer risk and retarding cancer cell growth.

The anti-oxidants in red wine have been especially helpful in reducing colon and prostate cancer risk, up to 45%.

However, as with all good things there is a limit. Drinking red wine in moderation has many proven positive effects. But drink more than 2 glasses per day of red wine and those same positives quickly become negatives. More than 2 glasses of wine each day leads to increased risk of heart disease, cancers, dementia, etc. Which often leads my students to the question, “why not take a resveratrol supplement”?

I have nothing against supplements per se. The problem is that people use any supplements as a replacement, not a supplement. Just as a Vitamin C tablet does not provide the same benefits as an orange, a resveratrol supplement is not quite the same as a glass of wine. For one thing, there are many more anti-oxidants in red wine than resveratrol. We don’t really know if the benefit is just from the reseveratrol, other anti-oxidants, or the interaction between anti-oxidants or between one particular anti-oxidant and the tannins that are found in red wine or some other substance. Then there is the very real affect of actually sitting and enjoying a glass of wine. That act itself helps slow your day and lets you relax. The medicinal benefit of that act is hard to measure, but I believe is substantial.

But if large amounts of the anti-oxidants found in red wine are good for us, but more than two glasses of wine are bad for us, what is one to do! If you’ve stuck with me this long you know what is coming – cook with wine! Same beneficial chemicals, no harmful effects. Enjoy a glass of wine (with meals only) and use wine to marinate, for sauces, to add flavor to soups, and to boost flavor in meatless meals.  Red wine, use it responsibly and it will keep you healthy for a long time.

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About the Author

Renee Pottle, an author and heart-healthy educator, loves to explore and write about the Mediterranean Diet. She blogs at SeedToPantry.com and HestiasKitchen.com.

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