Recent insights from the NIAAA challenge previous beliefs about the perks of moderate drinking. It seems even sipping in moderation isn’t without its pitfalls. Sure, wine’s health benefits have been sung for millennia, but think twice before labeling it your next health elixir.
People have been drinking wine for thousands of years, and the benefits of doing so have been well documented.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) have released public statements asserting that no amount of alcohol should be considered safe and even low levels have added risks.
Though drinking wine has been shown to have some health benefits, if you don’t currently drink, you shouldn’t start drinking for the health benefits.
Potential benefits of drinking wine
Most research on drinking wine has been observational, meaning it has shown a link rather than conclusive proof of its benefits. Further studies are needed to establish whether small amounts of red wine benefit health.
Wine is rich in antioxidants
There are many antioxidant-rich foods and beverages, and wine is one of them.
Antioxidants are compounds that prevent cellular damage caused by inflammation and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a condition caused by an imbalance between antioxidants, and unstable molecules called free radicals, which can damage your cells.
Grapes have high levels of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that have been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
Because red wine grapes are higher in antioxidants than white grape varieties, drinking red wine may increase your blood antioxidant levels to a greater extent than drinking white.
One 2023 meta-analysis concluded that moderate amounts of red wine, in the context of a Mediterranean diet, showed beneficial effects on the oxidative status of healthy subjects due to the increased expression of antioxidant enzymes.
Higher antioxidant status is associated with a decreased risk of disease.
Wine may help combat inflammation
Wine contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties.
Chronic inflammation is harmful and may increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and certain cancers. Therefore, it’s best to prevent this type of inflammation as much as possible.
Chronic inflammation can be reduced through diet, stress reduction, and exercise.
Many foods have the power to reduce inflammation, and wine is thought to be one of them.
Studies suggest that a compound called resveratrol in wine has anti-inflammatory properties and may benefit health.
A 2021 trial study of coronary heart disease patients found that low to moderate wine consumption lowered their inflammation.
Meanwhile, a 2018 study determined that moderate alcohol consumption helped prevent inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis, though it didn’t affect the severity of already-existing inflammation.
Wine may benefit heart health
Studies show that individuals who consume moderate amounts of wine have a lower risk of heart disease mortality when compared with beer or spirits. However, a higher risk for cardiovascular disease mortality was typically seen with heavier daily or weekly alcohol consumption across all types of beverages.
The authors of this study noted that observational studies like this one may overestimate the benefits of alcohol for heart disease. Many confounding factors, such as lifestyle or genetics,, may explain some of the association.
Researchers believe that red wine’s high concentration of polyphenol antioxidants can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and metabolic diseases.
Yet, other studies suggest that a daily red wine does not reduce blood pressure in people with normal blood pressure or those with heart disease.
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What’s more, wine may interact with medication that lowers blood pressure.
Furthermore, excessive alcohol consumption may adversely affect heart health, including increased blood pressure and a higher risk of developing heart disease.
As research in this area continues, whether moderate wine intake benefits heart health is up for debate.
Other benefits of wine
Drinking wine in moderation may also have other benefits:
- Wine may benefit mental health. An occasional glass of wine may reduce the risk of depression. However, excessive drinking can have the opposite effect, putting you at a higher risk of this condition.
- Wine may promote longevity. Studies have found that drinking moderate amounts of wine as part of a healthy diet is linked with increased longevity.
- Wine may promote healthy gut bacteria. Recent studies have even suggested that red wine may promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which may improve metabolic syndrome markers in people with obesity.
Summary: Some research suggests that drinking wine in moderation provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that may improve your gut bacteria and boost your heart, mental, and longevity. However, most research has focused on red wine.
Which type of wine has the most benefit?
Many people wonder about the differences between red and white wine.
Unfortunately, more research on white wine is needed, as most studies analyzing the benefits of drinking wine has focused on the beneficial properties of red wine.
Red wine has been widely acknowledged for its high concentration of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant found in grape skins.
In fact, red wine has up to 10 times more resveratrol than white wine.
Summary: Red wine likely provides more health benefits than white wine. However, more research is needed, particularly on white wine.
Potential downsides of wine
Excessive alcohol intake can be harmful. Binge drinking and consuming high amounts of alcohol is associated with adverse health outcomes.
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In fact, an average of 140,557 people die in the United States each year due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Heavy alcohol consumption poses several health risks, including an increased risk of certain cancers, heart disease, liver and pancreatic diseases, and unintentional injury.
In a 2020 meta-analysis, the risk of breast cancer was increased by 8.9%, with an increase of 10 grams of wine daily.
The US government’s most recent dietary guidelines make similar recommendations. They suggest that, if you drink alcohol, you should do so in moderation, which means one drink for women and up to two drinks for men per day.
Additionally, certain individuals should abstain from alcohol, including minors, pregnant women, and individuals on certain medications.
Summary: While moderate wine consumption may have health benefits, excessive alcohol intake can have adverse health outcomes. Certain individuals and populations should abstain from drinking alcohol.
Should you drink wine for your health?
Drinking wine will not benefit your health more than not drinking at all. But if you choose to drink for enjoyment, the best choice is to do so in moderation, and in combination with a healthy diet, including antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
Research has found the optimal daily amount to be 1 glass (150 ml) for women and 2 glasses (300 ml) for men. This regimen is part of a Mediterranean diet and has been associated with beneficial health outcomes and disease prevention.
Although research suggests that drinking a glass of wine has several potential health benefits, they can also be obtained by eating a healthy diet.
In other words, if you didn’t drink wine before, you don’t need to start simply for the health benefits.
For example, a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, legumes, fish, and nuts already provides high amounts of antioxidants and helps prevent heart disease.
Summary: While a daily glass of wine can benefit your health, you can reap the same health benefits by consuming a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods.
Research suggests that drinking an occasional glass of red wine is not without benefits. However, the WHO still recommends that no level of alcohol intake is safe and that even low levels of drinking can increase health risks, including the risk of breast cancer.
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Some chemicals in wine provide antioxidants, may promote longevity, and can help protect against heart disease and harmful inflammation, among other benefits.
Interestingly, red wine likely has higher levels of antioxidants than white wine. Still, more research is needed to better understand which wine types provide the most benefits.
However, it’s important to remember that drinking wine is neither healthy nor necessary for everyone. You can reap the same benefits by consuming a healthy diet.