There is no end to claims about the health benefits of red wine, with studies saying that drinking in moderation can do everything from lower your cholesterol to helping you manage type two diabetes. But, is any of this true?
While these studies focus on the antioxidants and chemicals present in red wine and their potential benefits, it is still worth remembering that a healthy diet involves low or no alcohol consumption. Senior Dietician at the British Heart Foundation, Victoria Taylor, says: “Other foods – including grapes, blueberries and strawberries – provide antioxidants without the negative effects of alcohol.”
However, if you are partial to a tipple after a long day, the evidence does support that a glass of red wine is a healthier option than hard spirits or beer. While these latter options are either calorific, or often drank with sugary soft drinks, the antioxidants present in red wine have been shown by decades of research to provide a variety of health benefits.
The primary beneficial compunds in red wine are present due to the use of their dark antioxidant-rich skin in the fermentation process – Polyphenol antioxidants, in particular resveratrol.
Polyphenols are strong antioxidants, which function to reduce the “oxidative stress” that occurs naturally within our body’s cells and has been linked to dementia diseases, as well as cancer, diabetes, and poor gut health.
Resveratrol is a form of antioxidant that is associated with better heart health, with higher levels of the chemical associated with anti-inflammatory effects that help treat cancers and other diseases.
Consuming these antioxidants is considered to be the main health benefit of drinking red wine, and can be added to your diet by eating more dark-skinned berries. However, the following are the five main benefits you might see from having a glass of red each day.
- Better gut health
The Mediterranean diet has long been lauded as a natural, healthy, way of eating – but that glass of wine could actually be helping the microbes in your gut process and break down food into helpful nutrients. A 2018 study found that polyphenols in red wine and grapes contribute to a healthy gut by improving the condition of the gut microbiata.
Though still an area of intense research, a 2016 study suggested that the changes made by the chemical compounds in red wine could even, indirectly, reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Better cancer outcomes
Before mentioning the benefits of red wine to cancer patients, it is important to know that drinking alcohol has long been linked to causing a wide variety of cancers such as liver and oral cancers – so drinking a glass of red cannot be considered a healthy precaution.
However, drinking red wine has been shown to have beneficial effects for some people living with cancer. A 2019 study found a link between red wine consumption and better outcomes for prostate cancer patients, while red’s resveratrol is known to prevent the dangerous cell multiplication typical of cancer, while also reducing the spread to other cells.
A 2018 study found that older people who did not drink red wine were more likely to develop a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. The study’s authors suggest that polyphenols and other compounds like resveratrol in wine can reduce inflammation and alter the processes which lead to dementia.
Analysis of 143 studies found that light to moderate alcohol intake, especially wine, was linked to a reduced risk of dementia and cognitive decline in older adults.
- Better management of Type Two diabetes
Research has shown that drinking a glass of red wine could help people living with Type Two diabetes manage their blood sugar levels, with study participants seeing a “moderate” decrease in overall risk to their physical health.
Researchers proposed that the ethanol present in wine help the body to better process sugars, though people with diabetes are advised to speak to their doctor about managing their condition.
- Better blood pressure and heart health
We all love to think a glass of wine will calm our nerves, but there might be some truth in it. The antioxidant resveratrol is thought to reduce blood pressure while increasing levels of good cholesterol in the blood, helping maintain our heart health and lower risks of heart attack and disease.
However, excess drinking can cause arrhythmia and high blood pressure, so necking a few bottles of bordeaux is likely to do more harm than good to your health.
Should I add red wine to my diet?
As with all things, moderation is key. If you are not already an alcohol drinker but want to improve the amount of antioxidants in your diet, you are likely better off eating more red grapes and blueberries.
However, if you drink in moderation and want to help your personal health, making red wine your tipple of choice could be a good idea. In a recent survey of the most popular alcoholic drinks published by King’s College professor Tim Spector, red wine easily topped the list as the healthiest booze choice.
Professor Spector said: “I would not advise people who do not drink alcohol to take it up, but this evidence could help people decide the healthiest options for drinking in moderation.
“Lately, artisanal cider has had a boom in popularity, rather like craft beer, so many people might enjoy drinking it with their health in mind. Red wine has a lot of evidence linking it with heart benefits, although this is still debated, as is the perfect amount.”