Nearly everyone has heard someone say that red wine is good for you – usually while they’re holding a glass of wine in their hand. So, we decided to look into the question: Is red wine good for you? Sadly, we can’t raise a glass and toast the health benefits of wine. We can, however, clue you in on what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to red wine and health claims.
First, What Is Moderate Drinking?
As a refresher to our earlier piece that answers the common questions about alcohol, we want to describe moderate, binge, and heavy drinking. Everything that follows requires understanding what “moderate” drinking is. For reference, a serving of wine equals 5 ounces.
- Moderate drinking: 1 drink/day (women); 2 drinks/day (men)
- Binge drinking: 4 drinks in a single occasion (women); 5 drinks in a single occasion (men)
- Heavy drinking: 8 drinks/week (women); 15 drinks/week (men)
Does Red Wine Have Heart Benefits?
The good news here is that yes, red wine may have heart benefits (more on that “may” later). Studies have shown that red wine seems to reduce the formation of blood clots. This is due in part to the fact that researchers believe that it helps raise HDL cholesterol (aka the good cholesterol) and reduce damage that “bad” cholesterol, i.e. LDL, does to arteries. It’s also believed to help lower blood pressure.
Before you start tipping a glass to lower blood pressure and improve heart health, there are some limitations. First, if you’re under 40 or African American, you don’t get these health benefits. And, you get the most cardiac benefit from about one-third of a serving of wine, which is only about 1.6 ounces.
Also, if you mix the occasional binge drinking episode in with your regular moderate drinking, you lose all of those health benefits – even if you only “binge” drink occasionally. Finally, heavy drinkers face increased risk of a number of cardiac issues, including cardiomyopathy and stroke.
What About Resveratrol?
Resveratrol is a type of phytonutrient (meaning it comes from plants). It is believed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Wine has resveratrol in it because grapes have resveratrol, and wine is made from grapes. The nutrient has nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with the plant.
If wine has the cardiac benefits it’s believed to have, it’s likely because resveratrol is believed to help improve circulation.
Before you toast the benefits of all those antioxidants, you need to know that the studies those health claims were based on were (1) conducted on mice and rats and (2) used doses at least 100 times stronger than what you get in a serving of wine.
If your real goal is to increase your resveratrol intake, you can get it without alcohol (although that isn’t as fun). It’s found in grapes and grape juice as well as cranberries, blueberries, peanut butter, and dark chocolate.
Could Something Else Have Caused Those Health Benefits?
This is where the “may have healthy benefits” mentioned above comes into play.
When we look at the results of a study, we often see what we want to see. For example, doctors have spent decades telling us that people who eat breakfast are healthier than people who don’t. That may be true, but how do we know that they’re healthier because they eat breakfast? Could people who eat breakfast also be more likely to have other healthy habits?
After researchers looked more closely at their wine study findings, they discovered that people who are truly moderate drinkers were also more likely to:
- Be physically active
- Eat a healthy diet
- Engage in preventive care
- Have a wide support group of family and friends
In other words, if you follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, you’re more likely to have fewer heart problems. It may have nothing to do with wine at all.
Understanding the Risks of Alcohol
We aren’t looking to be a buzzkill or tell you to never drink another glass of wine. After all, done to excess, pretty much anything can be bad for you. You can overdose on vitamins and even harm your body by exercising too much. It is, however, important that you understand the risks so you can make informed decisions about your health.
Even a moderate amount of wine is dangerous for those considered high risk. This includes anyone who:
- Has a history of addiction or is in recovery
- Is pregnant or planning to become pregnant
- Has a family history of addiction
- Is at high risk for colorectal, breast, liver, or head/neck cancer
- Has had a gastric bypass
If you currently drink alcohol, don’t have a history of addiction, and don’t have any conflicting health conditions, the occasional glass of wine is likely fine. If you aren’t sure, ask your doctor.
Why Is There So Much Conflicting Information about Nutrition?
When it comes to nutrition, there’s always a lot of conflicting information. It’s important to understand that scientists and researchers are always learning more about our bodies. Sometimes, it isn’t that previous findings were wrong, it’s just that all of the facts weren’t in yet.
Let’s be honest, though. You know that nothing that tastes as good as wine does can be good for you. But if someone tells you it lowers your blood pressure, you feel a little better about drinking it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If our lives were only filled with activities that were necessary or healthy, there wouldn’t be a lot of joy in living.
However, if you’re worried you might be misusing alcohol, talk to your doctor right away. Your Medicare Part B benefits cover screening and counseling for alcohol misuse. And, if you have questions about your Medicare plan, call us toll-free at 855-350-8101 to speak to a licensed agent.