By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Myth: Drink lots of red wine – it’s good for heart health.
Fact: Many studies have reported the benefits of limited wine intake for heart health.
My Recommendation: Know what the good limits are to avoid the risks associated with alcohol intake.
In 2011, the American Heart Association polled a thousand adults about red wine health benefits and found that 76 percent thought that wine could be good for the heart but only 30 percent knew what the recommended limits were.
Well, if you’re drinking wine for health’s sake, you better know the limits.
The French Paradox
Scientific research shows that wine contains all sorts of healthy compounds and because of that I have seen many patients go overboard.
You may recall that wine is at the heart of the so-called French paradox. French society, despite all the rich, fatty foods consumed, have a relatively low level of heart disease despite an average cholesterol of 250, which a lot of doctors would find troubling. The celebrated reason for this paradox is the high wine consumption.
I’ve had patients tell me they were following the French example and drinking red wine for health: two or three glasses, or even a bottle of wine a day. Maybe that was their rationale for drinking, but I always pointed out that the French also had the highest incidence of cirrhosis in the world.
Resveratrol & Heart Health Benefits of Red Wine
Red wine, and grape juice, for that matter, come from the red grape, which definitely has some good things going for it. It contains natural, heart-healthy antioxidant compounds – including flavonoids and resveratrol. Resveratrol has been the subject of more than fifteen hundred experiments since the 1980s, and the research appears quite promising. Among the most important findings:
- Protects against common free radical damage to the sensitive endothelial lining of arteries in atherosclerosis.
- Improves mitochondrial function (cellular energy production) and aerobic capacity in mice. Researchers have stated, “resveratrol shifts the physiology of middle-aged mice on a high-calorie diet towards that of mice on a standard diet and significantly increases their survival.”
- Protects against fragile, leaky blood vessels involved in age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, major causes of vision loss.
Alcohol or some compounds in alcoholic beverages, such as resveratrol, may help counteract blood clotting and reduce heart attack or stroke risk. However, more research is needed to learn the specifics.
As far as which alcoholic beverage might be the best for health, wine may be the winner. According to one Finish study of 2,500 men with similar socioeconomic status over a 29 year period concluded, wine drinkers had a 34 percent lower mortality rate and better quality of life than beer or spirit drinkers.
Red Wine Benefits vs. Moderation
If resveratrol is on your mind, you can surely find it in wine (red wine generally contains more resveratrol than white), but in modest amounts. You can also find this polyphenolic compound in peanuts, grapes, and berries like blueberries and cranberries, or take it in supplement form.
If you’re drinking red wine (especially for heart health), moderation is the name of the game.
I’ve been asked countless times, “Is one drink or a glass of red wine a day okay?” My usual recommendation to patients was to cool it with alcohol and for those who like to drink, I’m okay with a glass of wine four to six times a week. Don’t increase, and that goes for any kind of alcohol. Alcohol’s effects on the heart can go either way, and again, if you drink alcohol, I’d go with wine. The incidence of cardiovascular disease in those who drink these moderate amounts is actually lower than in nondrinkers. But increased intake eliminates any possible benefits and raises the risk for problems. Drinking more than one or two drinks a day increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and damage to the liver. The risk of breast cancer, suicide, and accidents also goes up.
My recommendations are in line with the American Heart Association, which emphasizes moderation for any kind of alcohol, whether wine, beer, or spirits. According to the AHA, limit consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. That comes out to about 8 ounces of wine for men and 4 ounces of wine for women.
- American Heart Association. Most Americans don’t understand health effects of wine and sea salt, survey finds. April 25, 2011.
- Baur JA, Pearson KJ, Price NL, et al. Resveratrol improves health and survival of mice on a high-calorie diet. Nature. 2006; 444(7117):337-42.
- Brito PM, et al. Resveratrol affords protection against peroxynitrite-mediated endothelial cell death: A role for intracellular glutathione. Chem Biol Interac, 2006; 164(3):157-66.
- Linus Pauling Institute. Resveratrol, Accessed Sept 29, 2016.
- Trincheri NF, et al. Resveratrol-induced apoptosis depends on the lipid kinase activity of Vps34 and on the formation of autophagolysosomeI. Carcinogenesis, 2008;29(2):381-89.
- Strandberg TE, et al. Alcoholic beverage preference, 29-year mortality, and quality of life in men in old age. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2007;62(2):213-8.
© 2013, 2016 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.