Red Wine – What’s in your Glass?

red wine being poured from bottle

Can indulging in a glass of red wine at the end of the day keep us healthy? Many people believe that a little red wine can be good for you while others talk about the damages of drinking too much alcohol. Read on to find out the truth about what’s going on in your glass.

How did red wine become associated with good health?

Red wine is thought to be healthy due to the “French Paradox”. In some parts of France where they eat foods high in saturated fat and have high rates of smoking, the rates of heart disease are low. These people also drink a lot of red wine. So, researchers began to study whether there were compounds in red wine that protected the French from heart disease.

Red wine gets its rich colour from the grape skin. The grape skin is also why red wine is rich in compounds called antioxidants, some of which are believed to help prevent chronic disease. Research is ongoing to discover whether these antioxidants might play a role in preventing heart disease and cancer.

Does red wine protect against heart disease?

Maybe. To date, there isn’t enough good quality research to answer this question. Some evidence shows that people who drink moderately (and that’s any alcohol like wine, beer or hard liquor) have a somewhat lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t drink, or who drink too much.   But it is also known that drinking excessively can increase your blood pressure leading to heart disease and stroke. 

Animal studies have shown that the antioxidants in red wine may reduce blood vessel inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease. However, there has not been enough research done on humans to be able to say that we would experience the same benefit. 

Does red wine prevent cancer?

Probably not.  In fact, alcohol (including wine, beer and/or liquor) is more likely to increase the risk of some types of cancer.  

Some researchers are looking at whether red wine may offer some protection against cancer because of resveratrol, an antioxidant. In animal studies, resveratrol has shown to slow down the growth of cancer cells. However, all these studies have been done in a lab. There is no proof that resveratrol would have the same effect in humans. 

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a wine drinker to get some resveratrol in your diet. Grapes, grape juice and cranberry juice also contain resveratrol.

What is a healthy amount of red wine to drink?

Just like with other foods and beverages, if you choose to drink red wine (and other alcoholic drinks), do so in moderation. The Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recommend limiting alcohol to no more than 2 standard drinks on any one occasion, up to 9 standard drinks per week for women, and 14 standard drinks per week for men *. 

Drinking too much alcohol increases the risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, mental illness, some cancers, accidents and many other health conditions.

If you don’t already drink red wine, it’s not recommended you start.

* Note, these guidelines do not apply to those who should avoid alcohol, including women who are pregnant and people who live with a medical condition such as liver disease.

The bottom line

Red wine and other alcoholic beverages should not be used to prevent chronic disease like heart disease and cancer.  Instead, stay well by eating healthy, being physically active everyday and living smoke-free. If you do like to occasionally drink a glass of red wine, enjoy it in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle.

For more information:

Alcohol and Nutrition

Food and Cancer Prevention

Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Do You Know…Alcohol, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Last Update – April 26, 2018

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