Red Wine -- Is It Healthy or Not?

“… good company, good wine, good welcome, can make good people.”

— William Shakespeare, Henry VIII

The idea that wine, especially red wine, is healthful has a long, noble history.

But what does the science say?

I’m always wary of the natural human tendency to cherry-pick data to confirm a hypothesis that we hope is true.

While there has long been an association between moderate red wine consumption and better health — especially heart health — this is one of the many areas in nutrition science where the truth is pretty gnarled.

For example, researchers from Johns Hopkins University examined 783 Italians and found that higher blood levels of resveratrol — regarded by many as the superstar antioxidant in red wine — aren’t associated with living longer. 1

However, a comprehensive study of clinical trials showed a strong link between eating and drinking foods that are rich in protective compounds called polyphenols — which includes wine, especially red wine — and longer life. 2

Impossible? Contradictory?

Not at all.

While resveratrol, as an isolated compound, doesn’t appear to have the powerful life-extending benefits that many had hoped to find, a complex of protective chemicals called polyphenols in red wine might well have that effect.

Further, alcohol itself appears to supply hormetic stress.

In other words, its toxic nature mildly irritates the body’s tissues, which respond by becoming more robust — all the better to overcome further stresses.

So…

Food components work together in complex ways.

Researchers can’t always tease the complicated, swirling currents of metabolism and biochemistry apart.

This means that the only route to scientific nutrition truth is to look at what people actually consume and what kind of health outcomes they have as a result.

As David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, recently commented: “So whatever the mechanisms, moderate alcohol intake — perhaps red wine especially — is associated with health and long life.”

Which raises the question…

What’s the appropriate amount of wine to drink to get those benefits?

First things first. Alcoholism is a real disease. If you are susceptible, the appropriate amount to drink of any alcoholic beverage is none whatsoever.

Teetotalers are healthier than alcoholics.

But most of the studies that show an association between improved health — especially cardiovascular health — and moderate drinking define “moderate” as one 5-ounce glass of 12.5-percent-alcohol wine daily for women.

Two for men.

I think these are good general guidelines, but I will keep monitoring the science around the health effects of wine and alcoholic beverage consumption.

If the consensus starts to veer, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, it appears that the bard had a point about fermented grapes’ salutary physical and mental effects.

And now — moderately and responsibly — a toast to your health!

Regards,

Brad Lemley
Editor, Natural Health Solutions


[1] Semba RD, et. al. Resveratrol levels and all-cause mortality in older community-dwelling adults. JAMA Inern Med. July 2014.

[2] Tome-Carneiro J1, Larrosa M, Gonzalez-Sarrías A, Tomas-Barberan FA, García-Conesa MT, Espin JC. “Resveratrol and clinical trials: the crossroad from in vitro studies to human evidence. Curr Pharm Des. 2013

Brad Lemley

Written By Brad Lemley

Brad Lemley is a science and health writer and former senior correspondent for The Washington Post and Discover magazine. He is a tireless advocate for safe, natural, self-directed healthy living practices and therapies.

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