Red wine, in moderation, has long been thought of as heart healthy. The alcohol and certain substances in red wine called antioxidants may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and protecting against artery damage.
While the news about red wine might sound great if you enjoy a glass of red wine with your evening meal, doctors are wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol. That’s because too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body.
Still, many doctors agree that something in red wine appears to help your heart. It’s possible that antioxidants, such as flavonoids or a substance called resveratrol, have heart-healthy benefits.
How is red wine heart healthy?
Red wine seems to have even more heart-healthy benefits than do other types of alcohol, but it’s possible that red wine isn’t any better than beer, white wine or liquor for heart health. There’s still no clear evidence that red wine is better than other forms of alcohol when it comes to possible heart-healthy benefits.
Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. A polyphenol called resveratrol is one substance in red wine that’s gotten attention.
Resveratrol in red wine
Resveratrol might be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevents blood clots.
Most research on resveratrol has been done on animals, not people. Research in mice given resveratrol suggests that the antioxidant might also help protect them from obesity and diabetes, both of which are strong risk factors for heart disease. However, those findings were reported only in mice, not in people. In addition, to get the same dose of resveratrol used in the mice studies, a person would have to drink more than 1,000 liters of red wine every day. Research in pigs has shown that resveratrol may improve heart function and increase the body’s ability to use insulin. Again, however, these benefits have not been tested in people.
Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can lead to heart disease. More research is needed before it’s known whether resveratrol was the cause for the reduced risk. However, one study showed that resveratrol may actually reduce the positive effect of exercise on the heart in older men. It’s also important to know that resveratrol’s effects only last a short time after drinking red wine, so its effects may not last in the long term.
Resveratrol in grapes, supplements and other foods
The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than is white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol. Simply eating grapes, or drinking grape juice, has been suggested as one way to get resveratrol without drinking alcohol. Red and purple grape juices may have some of the same heart-healthy benefits of red wine.
Other foods that contain some resveratrol include peanuts, blueberries and cranberries. It’s not yet known how beneficial eating grapes or other foods might be compared with drinking red wine when it comes to promoting heart health. The amount of resveratrol in food and red wine can vary widely.
Resveratrol supplements also are available. While researchers haven’t found any harm in taking resveratrol supplements, most of the resveratrol in the supplements can’t be absorbed by your body.
How does alcohol help the heart?
Various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just alcohol found in red wine. It’s thought that alcohol:
* Raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol
* Reduces the formation of blood clots
* Helps prevent artery damage caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol
* Produces changes in blood pressure
* Drink in moderation — or not at all
Red wine’s potential heart-healthy benefits look promising. Those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol, including red wine, seem to have a lower risk of heart disease. However, more research is needed before we know whether red wine is better for your heart than are other forms of alcohol, such as beer or spirits.
Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems.
Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents and other problems. In addition, drinking too much alcohol regularly can cause weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), leading to symptoms of heart failure in some people. If you have heart failure or a weak heart, you should avoid alcohol completely. If you take aspirin daily, you should avoid or limit alcohol, depending on your doctor’s advice. You also shouldn’t drink alcohol if you’re pregnant. If you have questions about the benefits and risks of alcohol, talk to your doctor about specific recommendations for you.
If you already drink red wine, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do.
A drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 5 ounces (148 mL) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 mL) of 80-proof distilled spirits.