The benefits of red wine can seem, at times, magical. They’ve certainly been receiving positive press for the last several years.
Red wine’s good rap even survived a large scandal brought on, a couple of years ago, by the discovery that a famous researcher falsified data in the goal of exaggerating wine’s positive effects on heart health. Since then, many more studies have come to light, encouraging many to boast about the fermented grape drink.
But, is red wine as good as it’s touted to be or not worth the fuss? With the holiday season fast approaching, I thought it particularly well suited to answer this question and, by the same token, give you the low-down on this popular beverage. Read on to find out what the newest science has to say about its purported benefits!
Wine Is Better Than The Gym
You may have heard that resveratrol (the polyphenol found in wine, but also in grapes, nuts and dark chocolate) was found to improve heart, muscle and bone function in the same way they’re improved as a result from exercising. So, does this mean you should turn your weekly gym sessions into happy hours at the nearest wine bar? At the risk of bursting your bubble; not exactly!
Although these claims are supported by research, an often unmentioned factor is that said research was done exclusively on animals, more precisely, rats. Unfortunately, researchers were unable to reproduce the same results in humans. As I’ve often mentioned in the past, animal research cannot be directly extrapolated to humans. And anyone pretending otherwise should not be trusted!
On the other hand, recent research found that, whereas exercise training effectively improves cardiovascular health parameters in aged men (i.e. blood pressure, blood lipids, maximal oxygen uptake), resveratrol supplementation can blunt these effects.
Luckily, the exaggerating reports of red wine’s annulling effects of exercise are similarly overblown. In this case, what is often not mentioned is that subjects received resveratrol supplementation in the form of pills (not wine) with a dosage equivalent to the resveratrol found 250 glasses of red wine per day! How likely is that to happen in real life?
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: Despite the allure of the “magic pill” or, in this case, the “magic glass of Cabernet Sauvignon,” there is no substitute for physical activity! On the bright side, enjoying wine (in moderation) is very unlikely to nullify the benefits acquired thanks to your latest sweat session.[/color-box]
Wine Helps You Remember Things
Ever wish you could easily remember where you put those darn keys? Well, according to a 7-year study of more than 1400 individuals 65 years and older, a glass of wine with your next meal might be just what you need! Researchers found that compared to no drinking, both minimal and moderate drinking were associated with lesser age-related cognitive decline.
A more recent study performed on more than 3200 dementia-free participants found that people over the age of 75, who indulged in a 5oz glass of wine or a pint of beer per day, were almost one third less likely to show signs of dementia at the end of the three-year study period. The researchers concluded that, in agreement with studies including younger age groups, light to moderate alcohol consumption could have a protective effect against dementia.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: If you already enjoy the occasional glass of Merlot with your dinner, know it may help boost your brain function. That’s not to say that all non-drinkers should start drinking to boost their memory. For the abstainers, check out these other scientifically-proven tips to keep your brain in top-shape! [/color-box]
Wine Fights Acne
How can a glass of velvety red help clear up your skin? This rumor stems from recent research on the acne-reducing effects of the well-researched polyphenol; resveratrol.
If you’re wondering “what’s the catch,” your instinct is right since the research fuelling this rumor investigated the effect of applying resveratrol directly on the skin (as a gel) rather than ingesting it from a glass of your favorite vino.
And before you ask, no, there’s no evidence that soaking in a tub of Pinot noir is equally as effective!
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: Resveratrol might offer some acne-fighting advantages when put into a gel, but drinking a good ‘ol glass of wine is, based on current research, unproven to have the same effect.[/color-box]
Wine Fights Off Depression
Can a glass of Cabernet rid you of the fall and winter blues? Spanish researchers sure seem to think so! Their latest report explained that men and women between the ages of 55 and 80, indulging in 5 – 15g alcohol per day (the equivalent of up to 4oz of wine per day) were less likely to suffer from depression. The protective effect of wine remained the same, even after accounting for other social factors such as marital status, smoking and diet.
At first glance, pretty promising indeed! However, looking a little further into this research paper reveals that several of the authors are either part of the board of or receive funding from the likes of the “Research Foundation on Wine and Nutrition,” the “Beer and Health Foundation” or the “European Foundation of Alcohol Research”.
Although this doesn’t falsify their results, I would caution you to look at them through a critical lens, especially given alcohol has long-been identified as a risk factor for depression.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: To re-use the word of caution utilized in the Spanish paper above, the key might reside in the quantity of wine drank. A moderate intake could help decrease the risk of depression whereas as anything over 7 glasses per week could have the opposite effects.[/color-box]
Wine Keeps Your Liver Healthy ?!?
Surprised to read about a potential benefit of alcohol on your liver? I can’t blame you, especially since the negative effects are so well publicized. Similarly to it’s effect on depression, the key in this statement may, once again, have to do with quantity.
Recent research reports that drinking up to 1 glass of wine per day (as compared to no alcohol at all) can decrease the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by up to 50%. This protective effect seems to remain constant after adjusting for age, sex, race, education, income, diet, physical activity, BMI and other markers of health status. Please note that no support was provided for drinking larger amounts.
For those of you wondering if wine is more beneficial than other types of alcohol, you might want to know that modest consumption of beer or liquor had 4 times the odds of NAFLD.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: For wine aficionados, a glass of vino per day may keep the liver doctor away. But keep it to that, as a higher intake might have precisely the opposite effect.[/color-box]
Wine Gives you 20 / 20 Vision
Resveratrol (the polyphenol found in red wine, grapes, blueberries, peanuts and dark chocolate) may stop out-of-control blood vessel growth in the eye. At least, that’s what research in mice has shown. Findings published in the American Journal of Pathology by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine found that resveratrol was effective both at preventing abnormal blood vessels growth and at eliminating abnormal blood vessels that already had begun to develop.
Although interesting, these research results are not directly transferable to humans, not only because the mouse model is not identical to the progression of eye disease in humans but also because the dosage needed is much larger than can be provided by several bottles of red wine, making it less than easily achievable through red wine consumption alone.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: Don’t ditch your glasses just yet. More research in humans is needed.[/color-box]
Wine Keeps The Dentist Away
Red wine can certainly stain your pearly whites, but did you know that it may, by the same token, help reduce the bacteria partying it up on the surface of your teeth? A study recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry described red wine’s antimicrobial effects against the bacterial strains responsible for causing the likes of tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss.
And alcohol may have nothing to do with it! Researchers dipped biofilms of oral bacteria in several types of liquids including Pinot Noir with or without alcohol and found that both types of wine were more effective at killing bacteria than water or a 12% alcohol solution.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: Although promising, these research results still need to be replicated directly in humans. Until then, there is still no substitute for flossing and brushing![/color-box]
Wine Keeps Colds At Bay
Do you wish to avoid getting infected with the office germs during this year’s cold season? Red wine might help you out! A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology looking at more than 4000 faculty members from 5 universities in Spain found that those who drank wine were less likely to come down with a cold in comparison to those who drank beer or spirits.
These results remained unaltered after adjustment for total alcohol intake and for other potential risk factors for common cold. Researchers seem to think that the polyphenol content of wine might be to thank for this as it can help prevent the inflammatory response normally associated with the common cold in addition to increasing your resistance to viral infections through their antioxidant properties.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: This effect seems likely, and, if not directly preventing you from getting the cold, could, at the very least, decrease the annoying symptoms related to it. Just don’t overdo it, as a high alcohol intake can have the opposite effects on the immune system![/color-box]
Wine Keeps Your Heart Healthy
Wine’s potential protective effect on the heart should come as no surprise, especially if you’ve ever heard of the “French Paradox.”
The American Heart Association admits that moderate consumption of any type of alcohol can increase your HDL by about 12%, which can explain why light to moderate alcohol consumption is often associated to 25 – 30% decrease in cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular death and overall mortality.
When it specifically comes to wine, a recent meta-analysis (a.k.a. overview of the latest scientific evidence) found sufficient evidence to support a beneficial effect of a low to moderate consumption (particularly of red wine) on cardiovascular risk.
The meta-analysis goes on to specify that, while wine consumption cannot replace a healthy lifestyle, light-to-moderate wine drinkers in good health may benefit from extra protection against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders and metabolic syndrome.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: If you’re a non-drinker, the American Heart Association doesn’t suggest you pick up the habit. But if enjoying a glass of two of alcohol now and again is something you already do, opting for red wine instead of, say, beer, might afford you some extra heart benefits.[/color-box]
Wine Helps You Steer Clear Of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome can be described as a cluster of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels, that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Put simply, someone suffering from diabetes is more likely to develop stroke and heart disease.
Interestingly, red wine might help prevent this from happening. For instance, research dating from 10 years ago already showed moderate alcohol consumption as being able to decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 30%.
What’s more, recent research originating from the University of the Negev in Israel notes that red wine drinkers seem to have significantly increased levels of HDL (a.k.a. heart-protective) cholesterol. When it comes to blood sugar control, intake of red or white wine seems to offer the same benefits. The caveat? The benefits of alcohol are quickly outweighed by the risks if you consume more than two servings per day.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: A moderate alcohol intake (regardless of the source) can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. As for wine, both red and white can help keep your blood sugar control, as long as you limit your intake to two or less servings a day![/color-box]
Wine Protects Against Sunburn
I must admit that, amongst all claims, this is the one I least expected! At first glance, the science seems sound; grapes and grape derivatives have compounds that help protect human skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. There’s even a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry explaining how the flavonoids found in grapes provide protective antioxidant properties to skin cells exposed to UVA rays.
Sounds pretty promising, right? At least until you take into account the often skimmed-over fact that these results stem from a study done in vitro (a.k.a. on cells, not humans).
Thus, despite what you may have heard Dr. Oz say, drinking wine (or consuming resveratrol supplements) remains, for the moment, largely unproven to guard your skin against sunburn or melanomas.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: To shield your skin, the best protection remains sunblock. On the bright side though, the flavonoids found in wine can bolster collagen production, which may help delay wrinkles! We’ll take what we can get, right?[/color-box]
Wine Helps You Live On!
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Gerontology compared mortality rates and quality of life in old age based on the alcoholic beverage preference. Results from this 29-year study show that men preferring wine were 34% less likely to die compared to beer and spirit drinkers. Wine drinkers also had the highest general and mental health.
What remains unclear is whether it is the alcohol per-se that provides the beneficial effects or the characteristics of the people who make the choice to drink it!
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: Wine seems to have more of a protective effect on your life span and quality of life than other types of alcohol. However, more research is needed to confirm whether it is the wine, or other characteristics of people choosing to drink it that confers the positive effects.[/color-box]
Wine Keeps You Slim
This claim might not be too much of a stretch when you take a look at the average physique our French counterparts. Recent research in the Journal of Biologic Chemistry suggests that piceatannol (the chemical compound in created from resveratrol in our bodies) can bind to the insulin receptor of fat cells and prevent their growth.
When overweight mice were given either extracts from red wine Pinot noir grapes or general mouse chow, the wined and dined mice stored less liver fat and had lower blood sugar. Researchers concluded that compounds inside the red grapes may have the power to delay the growth of fat cells and slow the development of new ones.
When it comes to humans, compared with nondrinkers, initially normal-weight women consuming a light to moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight and/or obese during 12.9 years of follow-up.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: Far from suggesting you should ditch the HIIT in favor of a glass of Syrah, the research does suggest there is no need to feel guilty about indulging in a glass of wine with dinner, every now and again.[/color-box]
Wine Makes Your Bones Strong
Too much alcohol can prevent your body from absorbing the calcium and vitamin D needed to build and maintain a strong skeleton.
A little wine, however, might actually help. At least according to recent research that shows post-menopausal female wine drinkers to have 25% fewer hip fractures than non-drinkers. Interestingly, this effect was not observed for beer nor hard liquor drinkers.
[color-box color=”main”]The verdict: Your bones might benefit from an occasional serving of vino, as long as said serving doesn’t inebriate you so much that it causes you to fall and fracture a bone![/color-box]
What About Wine Supplements?
Resveratrol, one of the most studied polyphenols present in wine, is now widely available in supplement form. However, despite our tendency to want to find the magic bullet, bottle it and sell it, the majority of such supplements have not been proven to have the same benefits as what is found in nature.
A recent study in the Chianti region of Italy actually found no protective health effects linked to resveratrol. Which brings me to a second point to keep in mind which is that, although most of the current research focusses on resveratrol, wine is jam-packed with other less popular health-boosting compounds.
Which suggests it might be a wide leap of faith to attribute all of wine’s positive benefits to one single polyphenol! Plus, a supplement can hardly mimic complex combination of compounds such as those found in nature.
Instead of thinking about nutrition in terms of individual nutrients, try focussing on the forest instead of the trees.
Think of the slow-paced lifestyle often associated with moderate wine consumption…
Picture of the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables often-accompanying such meals…
Consider of the amount time leisurely spent around the table, savoring each bite of the delicious concoctions…
Now try bringing a little bit of that into your life! Opt for fresh foods, easily found in nature. Slow down and enjoy each bite. Enjoy time spent with friends and family around the table. And, once in a while, if you wish, do so with a flavorful glass of wine in hand.
A Fail Proof Way To Choose A Wine You’ll Love
A little at loss regarding how to choose a wine you’ll enjoy when faced with the wide selection at the shop? Check out this video. It’ll provide you helpful tips on which wine to pick based on the foods you like most.
Do you enjoy the occasional glass of vino and, if so, what do you make of the effects described above?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below!