The Health Benefits of Drinking Red Wine
Here’s to your health: according to recent studies, red wine is good for men’s health. However, don’t take that as an excuse to get drunk: it turns out that the alcohol is red wine has little to do with the health benefits. Instead, red wine happens to contain powerful antioxidants that protect the body’s cells against damage caused by free radicals. As a results, your heart, nervous system, and even your teeth benefit.
The health benefits from wine are the same for men and women. The difference is the amount that is appropriate to drink. Since men usually have a higher body mass, they can drink up to two 4 ounce glasses a day of red wine, while women should limit their intake to one 4 ounce glass per day. It is extremely important to practice moderation since drinking more than these amounts has actually been linked to health problems such as liver damage and heart disease.
So what are free radicals? Free radicals are unstable molecules that are responsible for aging, tissue damage, and diseases. Free radicals are called “unstable” because they are lacking an electron. Most molecules have an even number of (paired) electrons, but free radicals don’t. Instead, they look for other molecules to bond with in order to “steal” an extra electron, and subsequently end up destroying these other molecules. Antioxidants prevent this process from occurring since they keep the free radicals from attacking the body’s cells. Think of antioxidants as the shield that protects the stable molecules. Or, to better illustrate the process, you could think of what happens when you cut open an apple. As soon as the exposed flesh of the apple touches the air, it turns brown from oxidation—the same process as when free radicals attack other molecules in the body. But if you dip the apple’s exposed flesh in lemon juice (which contains the antioxidant vitamin C) right after cutting it open, it will prevent this process from occurring.
Specifically, red wine contains two different types of antioxidants:
- Flavonoids are antioxidant compounds found in plants. In red wine, the main type of flavonoid is anthocyanin, a substance found in the skin of the grape that produces the deep purple-red color of the wine.
- Resveratrol is a compound produced by plants to help them ward off fungal infections and other disease. It belongs to the class of antioxidants known as polyphenols.
Different wines have different amounts of these antioxidants, with Cabernet Sauvignon containing the most, followed by Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir.
Overall, scientists have linked red wine to the following health benefits:
- Reduction in heart disease. Flavonoids in red wine are believed to decrease the amount of “bad” cholesterol in your bloodstream and increase “good” cholesterol. Flavonoids and resveratrol also seem to prevent platelets from sticking together, which can prevent heart attack or stroke by decreasing the risk of clot formation.
- Protection against cancer. Resveratrol has been shown to reduce tumor incidence and inhibit growth of cancer cells in the laboratory. Studies have begun to directly link red wine consumption to reduction of cancer risk in humans. For example, research has shown that a glass of red wine a day can cut a man’s risk of prostate cancer in half, particularly when it comes to the most aggressive types of prostate cancer.
- Protection against neurological disorders. Researchers have found that resveratrol can help block the formation of amyloid plaques which are thought to damage brain cells and contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Another study found that resveratrol actually aided in the formation of new nerve cells, which could help prevent neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Other health benefits. Doctors continue to find new ways in which the antioxidant effects of red wine benefit the body. For example, researchers have found that red wine cuts down on the inflammation and tissue damage caused by periodontal, or gum, disease. So drinking red wine actually can help your dental health, they say.
So do enjoy a glass or two of red wine as an easy way to improve your health.