Published March 27, 2012
While too much alcohol can harm your body, recent research suggests that one or two glasses of wine a day may actually help your health. Although no beverage can supplement the perks of daily exercise and a well-balanced diet, moderate consumption of wine could be beneficial.
The "French paradox" is the observation that the French experience low levels of coronary heart disease despite a high-saturated fat diet. Many nutritionists have speculated that the consumption of red wine as a prominent component to French culinary culture may explain this apparent paradox.
Physician Julie B. Damp reported, "There are multiple observational studies suggesting moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease, including lower risk of heart attacks." Moderate means one 5-ounce glass for women per day and one to two 5-ounce glasses for men per day.
Other sources of alcohol share some of the positive effects of red wine. According to registered dietician Amanda Bontempo, all sources of alcohol can increase the cardio-protective blood marker, HDL-cholesterol.
Furthermore, registered dietician Alison Massey suggested that the ethanol may be responsible for the benefits to counter atherosclerosis, -- a condition characterized by a thickening of the artery wall.
Resveratrol is found in red grape skins and appears to be the source of red wine's health benefits. It may prevent fat accumulation and reduce insulin resistance, which lowers the risk of diabetes.
Resveratrol also prevents blood clotting and plaque formation in arteries while improving vascular function. Bontempo explained, "The bio-active chemicals found only in red wine are flavanoids, polyphenols and specifically resveratrol which act as anti-inflammatories and antioxidants to prevent harmful cellular damage."
But that's not all resveratrol has done. Studies have shown this molecule can reduce tumor incidence by targeting different stages in cancer development.
"It may prove anti-carcinogenic by inhibiting certain enzymes, promoting cancer cell death, and preventing the development of blood vessels needed to feed a tumor," Bontempo said. Interestingly, grapes grown in cool climates have higher concentrations of resveratrol.
Keep in mind that you can get the same health benefits elsewhere. Flavonoids, for instance, are found in other foods (fruits and vegetables), cocoa and some juices. Grapes and red grape juice also have many of the same components as red wine.
People with high triglyceride levels -- which is associated with heart disease and diabetes -- should limit alcohol consumption because this can raise those levels even higher.
Wine also contains empty calories, which can lead to weight gain.
"Drinking greater amounts of alcohol is associated with negative health effects such as increased cancer risk, liver disease, high blood pressure, heart failure and addiction," Damp said.
Damp suggested that some of the associated benefits of alcohol consumption may be, in part, related to healthy lifestyle choices -- such as nutritious diets and physically active schedules -- on the part of moderate consumers. One should never overlook physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight when trying to improve overall health.