By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 21 March 2008)
While drinking moderate amounts of alcohol (up to one standard drink per day for women and two standard drinks per day for men) of wine, beer, or spirits may provide health benefits, red wine contains certain antioxidants not present in other types of alcohol that offer additional health-protective effects.
Key to red wine’s ability to lower the risk of certain diseases is the resveratrol it contains, which comes from the skins and seeds of grapes. White wine, for which grape skins are removed earlier in the fermentation process, has a much lower concentration of resveratrol than red.
Resveratrol is a phytoestrogen, and thus may be beneficial for menopause support and decreasing the risk for conditions such as breast cancer and osteoporosis that result from decreased estrogen levels. Additionally, recent research suggests that resveratrol may even help to prevent cancers and suppress tumors by neutralizing the oxidation of free radicals that would otherwise enter cell membranes, destroying protein and DNA.
Those who must avoid alcohol because they suffer from certain medical conditions or choose not to consume it due to potential adverse health consequences can obtain resveratrol by eating cranberries, blueberries, and peanuts.
Other beneficial antioxidants found in red wine are flavonoids called catechins, also abundant in green, black, and white teas. Catechins help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Red wine contains saponins (also occurring in soybeans and olive oil), which provide additional heart health benefits.
Guercetin, another of red wine’s beneficial antioxidants, may play a role in the prevention of lung cancer.
Red wine may have protective effects against colon cancer. In one study, those who drank one glass of wine each week were far less likely to develop colorectal polyps; only 1% of wine drinkers were afflicted compared to 12% of nondrinkers and 18% of those who consumed either grain-based liquor or beer.
International comparisons have also shown a lower incidence of coronary heart disease in countries where wine is drunk more commonly than beer or spirits.
Overall, those who drink wine, beer, or spirits regularly and moderately have a lower incidence of coronary heart disease than heavy drinkers, nondrinkers, and those who drink sporadically and binge when they do. Benefits are associated with consistent, moderate drinking, while serious health problems are associated with heavy drinking and sporadic binge drinking.
Benefits accrue with moderate consumption only. No additional benefits can be obtained through drinking more. At higher amounts, any benefits gained will be overshadowed by significant harm.
It is also important to note that the health benefits of moderate or low-risk drinking can be enhanced through quitting smoking, exercising more frequently, and improving nutrition, and that many of the beneficial ingredients in red wine can also be found in other whole foods. Given that researchers have found increased risk for certain cancers even in those who have one drink per day, consuming antioxidants in other foods whenever possible is the best strategy for health.
- BBC News. (24 February 2009). “Drink a Day Raises Cancer Risk.” BBC.co.uk.
- Harvard School of Public Health. (2007). “Alcohol.” hsph.harvard.edu.
- Kovacs, Elizabeth, J., Ph.D., Messingham, Kelly A.N., Ph.D. (2002). “Influence of alcohol and gender on immune response.” Alcohol Research & Health, Winter, 2002.
- MayoClinic.com. (2008). “Alcohol and your health: Weighing the pros and cons.”
- Morefocus group Inc. “Red Wine and Health, Red Wine in Moderation Can Have a Positive Effect on Health.” Morefocus.com.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia). (2001). Australian Alcohol Guidelines: Health Risks and Benefits.