Does Red Wine Really Have Significant Health Benefits?

“A cheeky glass of red is fine darling, I’m upping my antioxidants!” We all used to hear our mothers claim repeatedly. “If you say so mum,” we would reply, unconvinced. However, as we got older, many of us surrendered to the reassuring theory that a daily serving of red wine might actually be good for us. This commonly held impression dates back at least as far as the 1980s and the existence of ‘The French Paradox.’ Under this paradox, it was thought that the only explanation for the relatively low rates of heart disease among the French, when considering their extensive love of cheese and other fatty foods, was that they consumed wine on a regular basis.

According to the British Medical Journal, the consumption of wine has rapidly increased since then, with consumption almost doubling between 1980-2004. Alongside the increased availability and affordability of wine probably having an impact, this fact still confirms that drinking wine is clearly widely socially acceptable in most of Europe. In fact, in May of this year, the President of France, Mr. Macron, publicly announced that he enjoyed a few glasses of the good stuff every day, with lunch and dinner.

If our mother says it’s good for us, it must be – right? At the risk of potentially allowing ourselves to ignore the harm wine may or may not be doing to our health, we decided to have a closer look at the science… Here are some genuinely positive impacts of drinking red wine:

 

Keeping blood sugar levels low

Some molecules in red wine are able to control the speed at which glucose passes through the small intestine and enters into the bloodstream. It does so by reducing the impact of enzymes that absorb glucose into the blood, meaning that spikes in blood sugar are less likely to occur.

 

Improving Cardiovascular Health

Research from the Third Military Medical University in China found that resveratrol (an antioxidant found in red wine some other foods) reduced the formation of plaque in the arteries, which in turn reduces the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. Even the Economist got excited about this one, writing that “the study provides a plausible biological mechanism for how wine might promote cardiovascular health”. However, this study was conducted in mice, and it is not certain if the same benefits translate in humans. Similar studies that have tested the impact on humans remain inconclusive, mostly because it is difficult to control for factors such as diet, overall health and lifestyle, when comparing the impact of wine on the cardiovascular health of humans. So, we’re not 100% sure on this one, but there is hope.

 

Fighting Dementia

The resveratrol in red wine is also thought to reduce oxidative stress and swelling which are thought to contribute to the deterioration of our mental health as we get older. Indeed, a study by the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, found that people who drunk between two and three units per day were around 30% less likely to develop signs of dementia after three years, in comparison to those who didn’t drink wine.

On the same topic, Professor Waterhouse from the University of California suggested that resveratrol and other useful antioxidants found in red wine are found in higher concentrations in dark wine when compared to lighter wine. Professor Waterhouse suggests going for a merlot, Syrah or a Zinfandel wine. Additionally, he suggests focusing on those from milder regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja and California’s Napa Valley (as opposed to wine from hotter regions such as Southern Italy).

 

Boosting Female Fertility

According to scientific researchers at Washington University in Missouri, drinking one glass of red wine per week boosts fertility in women. The research investigated how wine affects the ovarian reserve of women, including the health and quantity of her eggs.

However, may I draw your attention to the words ONE and GLASS – sorry mum.

 

Improving Dental Health

This one seems far too good to be true, with many of us frequently suffering from that red wine smile, or ‘vampire grin’, as the red wine teeth stain is commonly known. However, when Spanish scientists dipped cultures of bacteria that were known to cause particular dental diseases into common beverages, they found that red wine was actually the most effective at removing and destroying the bacteria, thus suggesting that drinking it would lower one’s chances of developing cavities. Vampire grin here we come!

 

Don’t let the bed bugs bite

Bed bugs (or Cimex lectularius as they are known in the world of science), live off human blood. However, research conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the United States found that bed bugs go off human blood as soon as soon as the human in question is a few glasses of red wine down. If you ever sleep in a bed bug ridden bed, drinking red wine might be able to save you from those irritable bites.

And finally… although not directly linked to good health, the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, apparently prescribed wine to alleviate pain during childbirth in 400BC!

 

Moderation is the Name of the Game

 

Unfortunately, our research also found that regular consumption of red wine can be known to increase the risk of certain cancers, hamper muscle healing, increase weight gain and harm your liver, amongst other things. All this becomes more likely to occur when wine is consumed in large quantities. Worryingly, approximately 8-10% of the U.S population has a ‘drinking problem’, most of whom, started out as moderate drinkers.

So, whilst it’s not all good news, if you really pay attention to the amount you drink, red wine could really have a few health benefits if consumed in moderation. The Lancet suggests that we should only consume 14 units of alcohol per week, which is seven 175ml glasses of red wine, or fewer if you’re drinking bigger (normal!) size glasses. Additionally, almost all research suggests that having a few nights off wine a week will help your liver to recover and minimize the negative impacts on your health. Finally, try to lightly remind your mum that red wine isn’t the secret to good health alone. Drinking red wine will only bring you the above benefits in accordance with a healthy diet and lifestyle.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Scottish newspaper, The Herald:

“everything in moderation, including medical advice”

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