Fact or Fiction: The Health Benefits of Drinking Red Wine
Wine improves with age. But more to the point, according to active adult wine connoisseurs, age improves with wine. Raising a glass at happy hour or dabbling in the fine art of food and wine pairing with a culinary expert can be delightful—and delicious.
Health professionals seem to agree that most people can tolerate alcohol in moderation. But, the question of whether wine—specifically red wine—contributes to healthy aging is the subject of ongoing debate. Proponents of red wine health benefits are convinced it has wellness properties. Opponents are not persuaded. It’s easy to find plenty of input on both sides, but difficult to separate the fact from the fiction. As you sip a fine vintage, here’s some food for thought to go with it.
Claims of red wine health benefits generally focus on the presence of flavonoids, melatonin and resveratrol.
Flavonoids are polyphenolic compounds they have been reported to have antiviral, anti-allergic, antiplatelet, anti-inflammatory, antitumor and antioxidant activities.
Melatonin is a substance found both in red wine and our bodies. It is thought to delay inflammatory processes and stem the damage of old age.
Is resveratrol a magic bullet? Or is it all hype? That would seem to depend on the day, whom you talk to, and which research you ascribe to. But one thing is certain. Resveratrol, a naturally occurring compound produced during the fermentation process, is at the center of the red wine benefits debate. Due to significant antioxidant properties, resveratrol is said to help the body defend against disease by neutralizing the impact of damaging free radicals. Attacking our bodies on the cellular level, free radicals are frequently blamed for everything from heart disease, to accelerated aging, to diabetes to Alzheimer's.
Resveratrol is also credited with helping to lower cholesterol. Studies suggest it may be the key to the “French paradox”—that is, a population with a diet high in fat but a relatively low incidence of heart disease.
You Can Have Your Resveratrol—without the Alcohol
Many experts agree that resveratrol would be a beneficial addition to your diet. They don’t necessarily agree that red wine is the best source of it. Instead, they recommend other foods that contain resveratrol-like grapes, cranberries, blueberries, grape juice, dark chocolate or peanut butter.
The Cholesterol Equation
While studies show that wine consumption can raise the good HDL cholesterol in your body, there is a caveat. It appears due to an interaction between your body’s exertion and the low dose of alcohol in wine, only those who exercise will reap the HDL benefits and improve heart health.
It’s Not for Everyone
While nobody can definitively prove red wine is the key to healthy aging, studies do confirm it can trigger migraines in those who are susceptible. The culprit appears to be histamines and tannins accumulated during the fermentation process.
Moderation is the Key
Alcohol and health is a complex subject. The key at any age is moderation and good common sense. As we ponder whether red wine’s healthy aging benefits are miracle or myth, we can certainly savor a glass or two and enjoy the camaraderie and connections that come with good friends, good food and good wine.