Red Wine and Heart Disease: What’s the Connection?

Once again, the holiday season is upon us, bringing with it all of the traditional meals. While these large meals, with all of their trappings, can generally be a major stumbling block to fitness enthusiasts, one feature of your holiday meals may have the potential to actually improve your health: red wine.

It’s true that the potential of red wine to improve heart health isn’t really news, but several new studies have appeared recently that shed some light on exactly how red wine could be beneficial as well as some considerations.

Paradoxical Beginnings

Red wine has a long history of medicinal use in many cultures across the globe but the clinical research into its benefits really only recently began when doctors noticed what’s come to be called the “French Paradox.” Despite the relatively high concentration of unhealthy saturated fats in most French cuisine, the French people have a noticeably low incidence of heart disease. The theory that arose from a preliminary examination was that red wine, which plays a major role in French diet and culture, could be counteracting the negative potential of the food.

Since this theory was initially proposed, many observational studies have shown a definite statistical connection between red wine and a low risk of cardiovascular disease. But, these findings beg the question: How does red wine do it?

Potential Heroes  

Early in the exploration of red wine, the antioxidant polyphenol called resveratrol was pushed forward as the source of red wine’s health benefits. In just a few years, this previously obscure chemical become a $30 million per year supplement industry. However, recent research has challenged resveratrol’s claim to fame. A study published in the medical journal Cell Metabolism tested the results of resveratrol supplemention on several markers for heart disease. The supposed cardiovascular hero produced no positive results which suggests that resveratrol isn’t the portion of red wine that can be improving heart health.

In the wake of resveratrol’s fall from grace, alcohol has also been proposed as the reason for red wine’s healthfulness. But, this too, has been shot down by emerging research. Over the course of a 12-week study, subjects were given wine, dealcoholized wine and gin for 4 weeks each. Their blood pressure was measured at the end of each 4 week period and, out of all three substances, the alcohol-free wine showed the most improvement. In fact, the gin which contains the most alcohol by volume, produced the least benefit.

Considering the entire body of research surrounding red wine, including the above studies, it’s obvious that something in wine is absolutely good for our hearts. Unfortunately, it’s currently unclear exactly what the medicinal portion is.

Moderation, Moderation, Moderation

Given the vague nature of red wine’s health benefits, the American Heart Association doesn’t recommend that anyone begin drinking red wine regularly in hopes of improving their heart health. However, for those who do already enjoy an occasional glass of red wine moderation and discretion are stressed. In this case, “moderate drinking” is defined as between five and ten ounces of wine per day. It’s worth remembering, though, that even more benefits have been observed by drinking alcohol-free wine and even grape juice than traditional red wine. This means that you can receive the cardiovascular benefits while limiting your alcohol consumption.

Have you experienced the health benefits of red wine? Please share your experience with us in the comments!