Mythbusting: Red Wine

red wine final

In honor of my metabolism midterm, I’m about to drop some serious knowledge on all of you.

Let’s start from the top: Being an alcoholic (or drinking >4 drinks per day) is bad.

Who has ever heard “well…drinking 1-2 glasses of red wine is actually good for your health…”?

I’ve got good news and bad news great news for you.

The idea that red wine is good for you comes from the notion that the resveratrol in it is beneficial for your health. Resveratrol is a stilbenoid, which is a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants are amazing — and necessary —  for your health, they fight toxins and infection, preventing everything from that icky feeling associated with a common cold, to cancer. Red wine prevents cancer? Yes, I will have the carafe, thank you! 

So, red wine does contain resveratrol, and resveratrol is good for you. However, resveratrol is also in grape juice…and tons of other things. Why is red wine in particular associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular problems and disease? It’s the resveratrol, right?

It’s not — it’s the ethanol.

Having 1-2 glasses of red wine a day has been scientifically proven to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as having other health benefits. This is true (the good news!). But, having 1-2 glasses of white wine per day will also decrease your risk of cariovascular disease (the great news!). Then, having 1-2 glasses of ANY alcoholic beverage will also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease (the awesome news!!).

The Science:

“Consumption of one or two drinks per day is associated with a reduction in risk of [cardiovascular disease] approximately 30% to 50%. Although ecological studies support an association between wine intake and lower CHD risk, these studies are confounded by lifestyle, diet, and other cultural factors. Most cohort studies do not support an association between type of alcoholic beverage and prevention of heart disease; however, a few have suggested that wine may be more beneficial than beer or spirits. It remains unclear whether red wine confers any advantage over white wine or other types of alcoholic beverages.”
AHA Policy Advisories: Circulation. 1996;94:3023, Circulation. 2001;103:472 

You may be wondering how ethanol could possibly be beneficial in small doses if it is so destructive in large doses. It may have something to do with it’s effect on HDL and LDL cholesterol, platelet aggregation, and fibrinogen.  Reducing the amount of fibrinogen increases fibrinolysis and reduces coronary artery vasospasm, therefore increasing coronary blood flow and reducing blood pressure.Think of it this way, fibrinogen and platelets make your blood clot more easily, clots are ultimately what cause heart attacks, and moderate alcohol consumption decreases this clotting. It could also be due to moderate amounts of ethanol’s effects on insulin levels or estrogen levels (it reduces insulin levels and increases estrogen levels).
Mukamal et al. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2007
O’Keefe et al., Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2007
AHA Policy Advisories:  Circulation. 1996;94:3023
Circulation. 2001;103:472

Therefore, the protective effects of red wine are independent of the resveratrol. So whether it’s red wine, whisky, vodka, or whatever your drink may be, a *small* amount of ethanol per day is associated with a decrease in your risk of cardiovascular disease!

Enjoy Friday night happy hour!



PS - Don’t grab that shot glass too fast — this ONLY applies for ethanol in moderation, it has the exact opposite effect once you exceed moderation and either binge drink or drink more than a glass or two. Excessive drinking not only contributes to weight gain (especially if you’re using sugary mixers or highly caloric drinks), but also liver cirrhosis, cancer, malnutrition, and cardiovacular disease.

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