When deciding to live in the Mediterranean, people often believe they will become healthier by adopting a Mediterranean lifestyle. The Mediterranean diet has been recommended by health experts the world over. Understandable, considering it’s low in saturated fat and high in vegetables and fish.
But what about adding red wine to your diet? Is it true red wine actually benefits your health or should we think of alcohol as an occasional treat, if that?
The truth is the evidence is mixed–red wine has long been thought of as heart healthy when consumed in moderation. The alcohol and antioxidants (chemicals that can prevent certain damaging chain-reactions in cells) may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol and protecting against artery damage.
While that sounds great if you enjoy a glass of red wine with your evening meal, doctors are wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol. That’s because too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body.
Still, many agree that something in red wine appears to help your heart. It’s possible that antioxidants, such as flavonoids or a substance called resveratrol, have heart-healthy benefits.
How is red wine heart healthy?
Red wine seems to have even more heart-healthy benefits than other types of alcohol, but there’s still no definitive evidence proving it.
Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. A polyphenol called resveratrol is one substance in red wine that’s gotten attention.
Resveratrol in red wine
Resveratrol might be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces “bad” cholesterol and prevents blood clots.
Most research on resveratrol has been done on animals, not people. Studies of mice given resveratrol suggests that the antioxidant might also help protect them from obesity and diabetes, both of which are strong risk factors for heart disease. However, those findings were reported only in mice, not people. In addition, to get the same dose of resveratrol used in the mice studies a person would have to drink over 60 liters of red wine every day.
Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can lead to heart disease. More research is needed before it’s known whether resveratrol was the cause for the reduced risk.
Resveratrol in grapes, supplements and other foods
The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins for longer than white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol. Simply eating grapes, or drinking grape juice, has been suggested as one way to get resveratrol without drinking alcohol. Red and purple grape juices may have some of the same heart-healthy benefits of red wine.
Other foods that contain some resveratrol include peanuts, blueberries and cranberries. It’s not yet known how beneficial eating grapes or other foods might be compared with drinking red wine when it comes to promoting heart health. The amount of resveratrol in food and red wine can vary widely.
Resveratrol supplements are also available. While researchers haven’t found any harm in taking resveratrol supplements, most of the resveratrol in the supplements can’t be absorbed by your body.
How does alcohol help the heart?
Various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just alcohol found in red wine. It’s thought that alcohol:
- Raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol
- Reduces the formation of blood clots
- Helps prevent artery damage caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol
Drink in moderation—or not at all
Red wine’s potential heart-healthy benefits look promising. Those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol, including red wine, seem to have a lower risk of heart disease. However, more research is needed before we know whether red wine is better for your heart than other forms of alcohol, such as beer or spirits.
Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Alcohol can be addictive, triggering health new problems and worsening existing ones.
Drinking too much increases your risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents and other problems. In addition, drinking too much alcohol regularly can cause cardiomyopathy—a weakened heart muscle—causing symptoms of heart failure in some people. If you have heart failure or a weak heart, you should avoid alcohol completely. If you take aspirin daily, you should avoid or limit alcohol, depending on your doctor’s advice. You also shouldn’t drink alcohol if you’re pregnant. If you have questions about the benefits and risks of alcohol, talk to your doctor about specific recommendations for you.
If you already drink red wine, do so in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as an average of two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do.
A drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or ml) of beer, 5 ounces (148 ml) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 ml) of 80-proof distilled spirits
Finally, this information shouldn’t be treated as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare professional. Always consult your GP if you’re in any way concerned about your health.
Karen Madgwick blogs for Mediterranean Quality Care Services, a nursing agency based in Mallorca. Its team of qualified experts includes nurses, doctors, care assistants, pysiotherapists, holistic therapists and midwives, all of whom offer well-researched information on health-related issues. http://mediterranean-quality-care.com