What are the health benefits of drinking red wine?

“Wine, madam, is God’s next best gift to man,” said Ambrose Bierce, an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer and satirist.

A Bishop of Seville is said to have said, “I have enjoyed great health at a great age because every day since I can remember I have consumed a bottle of wine except when I have not felt well. Then I have consumed two bottles.”

Red wine has been part of human culture, serving dietary and socio-religious functions for more than 6,000 years. In the last few years, more research has been done to study the effect of alcohol on health. Especially, the cardio-vascular protective effect of red wine has been studied extensively. This is nicely summarised in an article I read in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons (JACS March 2005).

In the last 30 years, scientists have found inverse relationship between red wine consumption and death rate from coronary artery disease (CAD) in 18 different European and American countries. This led to the term French Paradox, because in France people eat food containing high amount of saturated fats (causes thickening of arteries) but their death rate from CAD is low.

Research has shown that consumption of red wine at a level comparable to that of France (0.7 to 1.1 ounces of alcohol per day) can indeed reduce the risk of CAD  by preventing arteriosclerosis (thickening of the arteries). It is now widely accepted that regular, moderate intake of any alcoholic beverages (1.1 to 1.8 ounces/day of alcohol) can also decrease the risk of CAD by at least 40 per cent.

You do not have to drink every day. Investigators have found the consumption of alcohol at least three to four days per week reduced the occurrence of heart attack. This was observed even in people with a limited consumption of 0.35 to 0.42 ounces/day of alcohol, which is the equivalent of one drink. But this comes with a warning – high consumption of alcohol can lead to increased sickness and death.

The question the researchers are asking – what is it in red wine which prevents or delays thickening of the arteries?

There are a number of components of red wine that could have beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system. Alcohol, which is present in up to 15 per cent of the volume of red wine, is one of them, says JACS article.

Red wine also contains a wide variety of polyphenols, most of which derive from grape solids (skin and seeds). A number of advantageous properties that help counteract arteriosclerosis have been attributed to polyphenols. Red wine’s “polyphenolic aid” inhibits oxidation of human LDL (bad cholesterol)

The article says red wine has shown to increase HDLs (good cholesterol), reduce clotting of blood and enhance relaxation of blood vessels. Is red wine better than other alcoholic beverages in preventing or delaying thickening of the blood vessels?

The authors say that the exact mechanism of red wine’s cardio-protection is not fully elucidated. The effect of alcohol on the cardiovascular system is varied and complex. Nonetheless, multiple studies have shown that in comparison to other alcoholic beverages such as spirits, beer, and white wine, red wines the most beneficial in reducing the risks of CAD and mortality in general.

It appears that the higher the presence of phenolic compounds in the alcoholic beverage better the effect on preventing or delaying CAD. A typical commercial bottle of red wine contains approximately 1.8 g/L of total polyphenols; a typical bottle of white wine contains only about 0.2 to 0.3 g/L of total polyphenols. So the total amount of polyphenols found in a glass of red wine is about 200 mg in comparison to only 30 mg in a glass of white wine.

Enjoy your red wine, but in moderation. The aim is to have good health and happiness.

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