Though you may not be reaching for red wine for its health benefits, the drink actually contains certain compounds that can improve health, as long as you consume the beverage in moderation.
It’s believed that the benefits of red wine include improving cardiovascular health, brain health, and bone health — and there’s research to back it all up. Here’s what you need to know.
Red wine may improve cardiovascular health
In fact, a glass of red wine has about 10 times more polyphenols than a glass of white wine. According to Roberta Anding, a registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine, the types of polyphenols in red wine include:
While all of these are beneficial, Anding says the most favorable is resveratrol, which is considered to be the most effective wine compound for preventing heart disease due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
These antioxidants prevent heart problems in multiple ways. According to Mayo Clinic, the compounds in red wine can increase levels of good cholesterol and lower levels of bad cholesterol, which can be heart healthy. Additionally, polyphenols are believed to protect the blood vessels’ lining in your heart.
Red wine can help maintain bone density
After around age 50, bone density may begin to decrease, and you can experience bone loss. However, research suggests that people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol may have a higher bone density.
For example, a large 2009 study found that moderate drinking (one or two drinks a day) had a positive effect on bone mineral density (BMD) in men and postmenopausal women. Additionally, a 2011 study found that red wine in particular was the most beneficial type of alcohol for bone mineral density in older men.
Excessive alcohol consumption, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect and backfire. Emily Monfiletto, a registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine, says that excessive drinking can be a major risk factor in developing osteoporosis. This is because alcohol interferes with how calcium and vitamin D work in the body, directly affecting bone health. It also reduces hormones that support healthy bone function, Monfiletto says.
Red wine may benefit brain health
Anding says the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of polyphenols may also contribute to the brain health benefit of red wine. Though hard scientific research is more sparse in support of this for humans, there are a few animal studies that show promising evidence.
For example, a 2015 study published in Scientific Reports examined late middle-age rats who were given resveratrol and found that they exhibited improved learning and memory over the course of four weeks. Once again, excessive alcohol consumption will have non-desirable effects. In fact, Monfiletto says excessive drinking has been shown to cause brain damage, which can lead to degenerative diseases such as developing dementia.
How much red wine should you drink?
Anding recommends consuming — at most — one five-ounce glass of red wine a day for women, and two five-ounce glasses for men. Alcohol in excess should always be avoided.
Long-term excessive consumption of alcohol can weaken your immune system, cause mental health problems, and cause health problems such as high blood pressure or heart disease. It can also raise the risk of several forms of cancer. Therefore, it’s important to consume red wine — and any alcohol — in moderation.
The bottom line
Overall, red wine can be beneficial for your health, but only if it is consumed in moderation. And if you don’t already drink, you shouldn’t start in hopes of reaping benefits.
“Individuals who are not currently drinking, or those who have a personal preference to avoid alcohol, should not be advised to consume alcohol solely for the purpose of potential health benefits,” says Monfiletto.