Red wine has been consumed since clever people first picked grapes and fermented them, thousands of years ago. The health benefits of drinking red wine are well-established and tirelessly promoted by the wine industry. Yes, there are some substances in red grapes that can benefit your cardiovascular system, but the alcohol in red wine isn’t entirely beneficial and should be carefully moderated.
Flavonoids are substances found in many fruits and vegetables, but darker-skinned grapes are especially rich sources. Flavonoids are potent antioxidants that can destroy and eliminate free radicals within your body. Free radicals are by-products of chemical reactions that tend to damage tissues such as blood vessels and organs. The most common flavonoids in red wine are proanthocyanidins, which are found mostly in the seeds of red grapes. Proanthocyanidins are also good anti-inflammatories and antihistamines, so they can help protect your cardiovascular system from injury, inflammation and disease.
Resveratrol is another substance in dark-colored grapes that’s a strong antioxidant. It’s found in the seeds and skin of the grapes, as well as the leaves and twigs of the vines. Resveratrol has been well-studied in animals and it’s been shown to protect blood vessels from inflammation, to decrease “bad” cholesterol in the blood, reduce the risk of clogged arteries, prevent the formation of blood clots and stimulate the formation of new nerve connections in the brain. Resveratrol also might have anti-cancer properties, although more human research is needed before specific recommendations or claims can be made.
Tannins, another plentiful component of red wine, are primarily responsible for the astringent and somewhat bitter taste of the beverage. Tannins cause grapes and other fruits to ripen, but they have some health benefits too. For example, tannins act as mild antimicrobials and anti-inflammatories, and they can also help control bouts of diarrhea.
Red wine is a fermented beverage and contains ethanol, which is the substance that likely led to the expression, “drink and be merry.” Aside from lowering inhibitions and prompting some impulsive behavior, alcohol can be beneficial for cardiovascular health because it thins your blood. Thin blood means that the platelet cells are less sticky and apt to form clots, which can help prevent artery blockages.
The ethanol in red wine, beer and spirits has a number of negative effects, so consume alcoholic beverages in moderation. For example, too much alcohol increases your risk of liver disease, pancreatic cancer, stomach ulcers, nerve toxicity, high blood pressure and depression. Consequently, limiting red wine to an average of one glass a day is a good idea for most women. If you want the benefits of red wine without the alcohol, eat dark-skinned grapes or drink natural grape juice. Also, flavonoid and resveratrol supplements often are available at health-food stores.
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
- Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
- Human Metabolism: Functional Diversity and Integration; J. Ramsey Bronk
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.