The Truth About Red Wine And Your Heart

Red wine is commonly praised as a heart-healthy elixir, but is it really true that a glass of red wine a day will keep the cardiologist away? On one hand, research indicates that drinking some red wine could be healthy for your heart. On the other, you shouldn't use that information as an excuse to drink wine to your heart's content.

Alcohol

Drinking some alcohol may improve your heart health by increasing your "good" cholesterol, by reducing your risk of blood clots, and by preventing some artery damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ultimately, consuming any type of alcohol every day could improve blood flow to your heart and lower your risk of heart attacks. That is, if alcohol is the primary heart-healthy component in red wine, red wine may not be any better for your heart than is liquor or any other alcoholic beverage.

Antioxidants in Red Wine

According to the American Heart Association, wine is unique among alcoholic beverages in that it contains a high level of antioxidants called polyphenols. These compounds -- especially a polyphenol called resveratrol -- may help prevent or slow down the progression of heart disease by relaxing your blood vessels. The Copenhagen City Heart Study, a project that tracked the habits of over 13,000 men and women for 16 years, reported that wine drinkers were half as likely to die from heart disease or stroke during that 16-year period of time as were people who said that they didn't drink wine. Participants who reported drinking beer or spirits didn't reap similar heart benefits. In 2002, Circulation Journal published a meta-analysis of 13 separate studies that had focused on heart health and alcohol consumption. In this analysis, researchers determined that drinking red wine reduced the overall risk of heart disease by 32 percent, whereas beer only reduced that risk by 22 percent.

Considerations

You don't need to drink red wine to get your fill of heart-protective polyphenols. The reason red wine contains high levels of polyphenols is because it spends a lot of time fermenting with polyphenol-rich grape skins. Since grape skins are the primary contributor to the high level of polyphenols, it is possible that you would reap similar heart benefits from eating grapes or drinking a glass of grape juice as you would from having a glass of wine. These polyphenols are also in peanuts, certain berries, and even high-quality dark chocolate. Also, a study published in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry contests the idea that red wine is any healthier for your heart than white wine is. According the authors of this study, the pulp of grapes offers as many heart-protective benefits as the skins do.

The Importance of Moderation

Red wine does seem to have heart-healthy benefits, but that doesn't necessarily make it the best or only heart-protective part of your diet. The takeaway message is this: Until evidence is more conclusive, don't start drinking red wine or any other sort of alcohol just because it could help your heart. If you already enjoy a glass of red wine from time to time, be conscientious about how much you drink. Having too much red wine -- or drinking too much of any alcohol, for that matter -- could actually increase your risk of high blood fats, high blood pressure, and a weakened heart muscle. It could also boost your chances of developing liver damage, gaining weight, and getting certain types of cancer, warns the Mayo Clinic. Limit your consumption to about a drink a day if you're a woman or two drinks a day if you're a man, but avoid drinking any alcohol if you're pregnant. Also, your doctor will likely recommend that you avoid drinking wine altogether if you take aspirin every day, if you're susceptible to migraine headaches, or if you already have liver damage, a weak heart, or heart failure.