The truth about wines unravelled: Is wine good for your health?

Emeh Joy

There has been an ongoing debate about wine and its impact on health. You might be wondering if you should continue drinking wine and if it is good for your health. Research has shown that an occasional glass of red wine is healthy. 

Friends raising their wine glasses

Wine has existed for ages past. Humans have been enjoying it since Neolithic times, and since then, the process of making wine has also changed.

Today, the wine industry is a big one, and winery is now a big business. With that said, what is the absolute truth about wine? What is its benefit to health?

Wine and heart health

One of the most commonly discussed benefits of wine is its potential to reduce the risk of heart diseases. According to research, consumption of wine was associated with a reduction of heart diseases.1

Red wine contains a high concentration of polyphenol antioxidants which researchers believe can reduce the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and metabolic diseases.4 

Research in this area has focused mainly on the polyphenol resveratrol, which occurs naturally in grape (the major wine constituent) seeds and skins. Resveratrol is believed to prevent high blood pressure by dilating blood vessels. 

While some researches have suggested that wine (particularly red wine) is healthy for the heart, some other studies seem to contradict this. More research needs to be carried out in this area. 

Irrespective of what current studies say, it is best to drink in moderation because excess alcohol consumption negatively affects the heart.

Abundant antioxidants

Wine is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols. Antioxidants are compounds that can prevent or slow down the cellular damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules the body produces in reaction to environmental and other pressures).

Free radicals can cause damage to the cells when they become too much. They become harmful when the body cannot process and remove them efficiently (a state known as oxidative stress). 

Antioxidants act to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Studies have shown that red wine can increase oxidant levels more than white wine because red wine grapes are richer in antioxidants.3

Combating inflammation

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Inflammation is a process by which the body’s immune system protects the body from infectious agents like bacteria and viruses. 

Inflammation is not bad, but if it becomes chronic, it can be harmful. “The goal is to keep inflammation in check and not let the fire run wild,” says Dr Andrew Luster of the Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Chronic inflammation can cause injury to the joints, tissues and blood vessels. It can also increase the risk of developing autoimmune disorders, heart disease and certain types of cancer

Chronic inflammation can be reduced by exercising, reducing stress and dieting. Wine is believed to be one of the foods that have the potentials to reduce inflammation. 

Red wine contains resveratrol, which according to studies, have anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to health. One study showed that moderate wine consumption was associated with a reduced inflammatory response.2

Healthy gut bacteria

The stomach contains bacteria flora that plays a crucial role in the digestive processes as well as the immune system. The majority of gut bacteria are harmless and beneficial to health.

Recent studies suggest that red wine may promote healthy gut bacteria, which may, in turn, improve metabolic syndrome markers in obese people.5 However, this observed benefit of wine to gut health was found with people that took just one glass of red wine per week.

Longevity

Drinking wine in a moderate amount may increase longevity. Oxidative stress can contribute to ageing, and since wine contains plenty of antioxidants that prevent oxidative stress, it may help slow down ageing. 

Wine contains compounds such as hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol, which have been found to be protective against Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder common in people over 65 years of age.

Wine also promotes longevity by reducing the risk of developing other chronic diseases prevalent in older people, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Should you drink red or white wine?

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Wine preference is usually based on taste, but many people wonder which is the healthiest pick between red wine and white wine. 

The main difference between red wine and white wine is in the colour of the grapes used as well as the fermentation process. 

For white wines, the grapes are pressed and then the seeds, skin and stems are removed before fermenting. On the other hand, red wines involve crushing the grapes and fermenting them alongside the seeds, skin and stems. 

Grape skins give wine its distinct colour. They also lend wine the abundant healthy compounds found in red wine.

Because red wine is fermented with the grape skin, it is rich in the plant compounds found in those skins, such as resveratrol and tannins. 

Even though white wine also contains some of the healthy plant compounds, they are not as richly abundant in white wine as in red wine. 

Wine must be consumed in moderation

Wine is an alcoholic beverage, just like beer. An average glass of wine contains about 11-13 alcohol, so it must be consumed with caution. 

When you take too much alcohol, you get the same effect as when you consume excess beer. And, excess alcohol intake has been associated with negative outcomes such as the increased risk of diabetes, heart diseases, liver diseases, pancreatic diseases and cancer. 

According to a recent study, the ideal daily intake of wine is 2 glasses (300 ml) for men and 1 glass (150 ml) for women.6

Sticking with this moderate amount of wine has been associated with positive health outcomes, disease prognosis and disease prevention. 

Red wine may be the healthiest alcohol drink option; however, abstaining entirely from alcohol is healthier. 

“We know alcohol is bad for us. If you drink, it should be red wine, as this is the only alcoholic drink that’s been found to have a beneficial effect, but I’m not encouraging people to drink red wine”,  says Caroline Le Roy, research associate at Twins Research Department, Kings College London in a BBC article.

References

  1. Adjemian, M. K., Volpe, R. J., & Adjemian, J. (2015). Relationships between Diet, Alcohol Preference, and Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes among Americans. PloS one, 10(5), e0124351. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0124351 
  2. Imhof, A., Woodward, M., Doering, A., Helbecque, N., Loewel, H., Amouyel, P., Lowe, G. D., & Koenig, W. (2004). Overall alcohol intake, beer, wine, and systemic markers of inflammation in western Europe: results from three MONICA samples (Augsburg, Glasgow, Lille). European heart journal, 25(23), 2092–2100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ehj.2004.09.032 
  3. Jäntschi, L., Sestraş, R. E., & Bolboacă, S. D. (2013). Modelling the antioxidant capacity of red wine from different production years and sources under censoring. Computational and mathematical methods in medicine, 2013, 267360. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/267360 
  4. Liberale, L., Bonaventura, A., Montecucco, F., Dallegri, F., & Carbone, F. (2019). Impact of Red Wine Consumption on Cardiovascular Health. Current medicinal chemistry, 26(19), 3542–3566. https://doi.org/10.2174/0929867324666170518100606 
  5. Moreno-Indias, I., Sánchez-Alcoholado, L., Pérez-Martínez, P., Andrés-Lacueva, C., Cardona, F., Tinahones, F., & Queipo-Ortuño, M. I. (2016). Red wine polyphenols modulate fecal microbiota and reduce markers of the metabolic syndrome in obese patients. Food & function, 7(4), 1775–1787. https://doi.org/10.1039/c5fo00886g 
  6. Pavlidou, E., Mantzorou, M., Fasoulas, A., Tryfonos, C., Petridis, D., & Giaginis, C. (2018). Wine: An Aspiring Agent in Promoting Longevity and Preventing Chronic Diseases. Diseases (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 73. https://doi.org/10.3390/diseases6030073 
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