To Drink or Not To Drink? That is the Question When it Comes to Establishing Heart-Healthy Habits

Wine may be one of the oldest alcoholic beverages still enjoyed by human civilization, but to this day, it continues to cause much controversy in the health and nutrition community. Whether or not red wine is good for you is regularly in the news—and each story seems to contradict the last.

Here, we’ll look at some recent studies that assess the link between red wine and heart health...so you can assess whether or not to continue with your regular nightcap.

Why Do People Say a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Includes Red Wine?

A lot of the theories pointing to red wine as beneficial to cardiovascular health stem from assumptions surrounding what’s come to be known as the “French Paradox.” A 2017 report on alcohol and heart health published by the American Heart Association describes the French Paradox as follows: “The French Paradox is a term derived from the observation of a decreased incidence of [specific types of heart heart disease] despite a high intake of saturated fat. This is linked to France and led scientists to attribute this phenomenon to the high consumption of wine.”

In other words, French people eat a lot of fats, drink of lot of wine, and still seem to have a lower risk of heart disease versus people in other countries. (The article goes on to point out that, as with the average French diet, red wine is also a big part of the Mediterranean diet, which many researchers similarly suggest is great for the heart and may be “a key player in cardiovascular disease prevention.”)

Indeed, the French Paradox is often cited as an inspirational factor in the recent proliferation of research related to heart health and wine consumption. And perhaps there’s good reason for it: Numerous studies suggest that the compound called resveratrol—a polyphenol present in red wine—can have a positive impact on heart health. A recent review of scientific findings on red wine notes that there is solid evidence red wine can benefit the heart, and that “these beneficial effects are due to polyphenols found in red wine, especially resveratrol in grape skins.” The article goes on to suggest that, more specifically, resveratrol has certain properties that exhibit “protective effects on the cardiovascular system” and can help reduce the risk of “cardiovascular morbidity and mortality” by 30 and 50 percent, respectively.

That said, hold off on bringing these studies up to your beer-loving friends when trying to prove that wine is the superior beverage. After all, wine is not the only option when it comes to heart-healthy polyphenol consumption.

Are White Wine and Other Types of Alcohol Good for Heart Health?

The 2017 AHA article cited above notes that red wine isn’t alone in having potential heart-protective qualities, suggesting that research conducted to date left “no clear consensus of wine conferring greater benefits than alcoholic beverages.”

An article from Harvard University’s “The Nutrition Source” does a good job of breaking down how red wine got its reputation—and why that reputation may be overstated. It suggests that “red wine tends to receive more attention than white wine because it contains about 10 times the amount of polyphenols,” but “there may be other active compounds in white wine that offer a cardioprotective effect.” In addition, “beer also contains similar protective compounds as wine, but in smaller quantities.” In fact, red wine may have ultimately earned its reputation due to the “effects of ethanol itself” rather than the presence of specific compounds.

Additionally, the article makes clear that a clean and well-rounded diet can provide all the heart-healthy compounds you need, whether you’re a regular wine imbiber or not: “It is important to note that the amount of polyphenols in alcohol is modest and only contributes a small amount to the total amount of polyphenols found in a wide variety of plant foods.”

What does this all mean?

Rather than depending on a glass of vino every night to optimize for heart health, make sure you add polyphenol-rich ingredients like “tea, coffee, berries, onions, or apples” to your regimen as these provide “a much higher amount of polyphenols than having an extra glass of red wine.” And, at the end of the day, while most studies seem to agree that alcohol can in fact, contribute to good heart health—whatever your choice of poison may be—quantity is very important when it comes to consumption, which we’ll get into below.

How Much Wine is Too Much When it Comes to a Healthy Lifestyle?

Before you start thinking it’s a good idea to down a bottle of wine every night, keep in mind that too much of a good thing may, in fact, become a not-so-good thing. The AHA article writers are firm on their recommendation that only “a light-to-moderate intake is considered cardioprotective by epidemiological and experimental investigations.” The AHA recommends limiting consumption to less than two standard glasses for men and less than one standard glass for women per day (with a standard glass being three to five ounces depending on the amount of alcohol in the wine).

The risks of overconsumption don’t just undo the potential benefits of light-to-moderate consumption—they can dramatically increase your risk of developing certain health conditions. As the AHA suggests, the risk of developing diseases like “alcoholic liver disease, alcohol use disorder, and pancreatitis induced by alcohol” are all increased as a result of overconsumption. And the news isn’t great for the heart, either: In 2004, “3.8% of global mortality was alcohol-associated,” with alcohol contributing to “injury, cancer, liver cirrhosis, and cardiovascular diseases”; furthermore, the article notes, “almost all preventable deaths were from the cardiovascular category.”

A Toast to Your Cardiovascular Health

In brief, go ahead and pour yourself that glass of chianti to enjoy with your dinner tonight. Just make sure you save the cork and know that there’s no shortcut to keeping your ticker happy. The science is pretty convincing that a glass or two of alcohol a day can do some good for your heart, but you’ll only realize those benefits if you limit your intake and stick to a healthy, well-rounded diet (our VitaYears™ Anti-Aging Multivitamin can help with that!). Cheers!