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Cheers to Your Health: Benefits of Red Wine

For centuries wine was considered a foodstuff, and in many parts of the world it’s still regarded as a daily beverage consumed with lunch and/or dinner. Most Americans would not think of wine as a natural foodstuff to be consumed at mealtimes.


On November 17, 1991, 60 Minutes aired an hour-long program moderated by Morley Safer about red wine. With a glass of red wine in his hand, he raised it up, and declared that its content may lie the explanation for the low rate of coronary infarctions the French enjoy. He went on to talk about all the cheese, butter, fois gras, and cream the French people eat along with their glass of red wine. He called this the French paradox. The paradox of all this butter, cheese, and cream, yet the French have a cardiovascular health risk substantially lower than the people in the U.S. The French actually have a statistically lower rate of heart infarctions than the U.S. or any other Western nation.


The explanation? The glass of red wine that every French person enjoyed with their meal every day. This program profoundly affected American attitudes toward drinking alcohol in this puritan mindset nation. The evils of alcohol had been questioned by this program; by 1992, red wine consumption increased by 39%.


In the years to follow, England, the U.S., France, and Denmark established a connection between red wine consumption and a lower risk of coronary decease. It appears that the phenol compounds in red wine are chiefly responsible for the antioxidant health benefits, but tannins in red wine also contain antioxidants that help protect your cells against free radicals. If your body has too many free radicals, they can cause cancer, heart disease, and other issues. The antioxidants of phenols and tannins have been found to lower total cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and stimulate the immune system. These antioxidant effects in blood prevent the oxidation of LDL lipoproteins, which are responsible for the narrowing of the arteries near the heart, which can lead to arteriosclerosis and heart attack. In addition to the antioxidant effects, red wine—more than other types of alcohol—tends to thin the blood. This effect reduces the risk of blood clots.


The Mayo Clinic concurs with these findings as to the health benefits of red wine. The researchers at the Mayo Clinic state that part of this reduction in cardiovascular risk due to red wine may come from the increased levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) and protect against cholesterol buildup. They also site a polyphenol called resveratrol that could be linked to a lower risk of heart disease. More research is needed to confirm this theory. 


The current thought is that red wine may have compelling evidence for heart health, but clinical trial facts are still strong that any alcohol in moderation has very similar heart health results. The absolute factual truth is: “Drink in moderation or don’t drink alcohol at all.” Moderation is one glass of wine per day for women and two glasses of wine for men. Men have more “alcohol dehydrogenase” than women, aka, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the liver.


My take on this is: Heart-healthy, classy, good-looking people drink red wine, so “be smart, drink wisely.”


Dr. Grover Lee is the owner and founder of Wise Villa Winery. By applying a rigorous scientific approach to winemaking, he combines the best of classic winemaking techniques with the rigors of science. His appreciation for European winemaking and the importance of food and wine especially shape his style.