Red Wine and Your Health: Looking Beyond the “French Paradox”

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Chances are, you’ve seen several social media posts, stories in magazines, and even subtle mentions on television that red wine is good for your health. You may have even heard of the “French paradox”—which suggests that red wine consumption is the reason why the French have lower rates of heart disease.

Much has been made of the health benefits of red wine as part of a “Mediterranean diet”—especially when it comes to your heart. But are these reports really based on hard evidence? And what about the broader health impacts of red wine? In the big picture, is wine good for you or not?

Below, we’ll look into some of the most common red wine health facts and myths, including the real evidence behind red wine and heart health, and how red wine affects your health in general. Even if wine is good for your heart, could the other downsides outweigh the benefits?

Red Wine and Heart Health: Fact or Fiction?

man holding a large bunch of grapes
Photo by Maja Petric on Unsplash

The most common red wine health benefit that we hear about is that it’s good for your heart. But could these reports simply be “red wine hype” that could in fact damage your health?

The answer to this question is most likely yes. Despite the vast number of studies that have been published on this topic, one important thing is missing from all of them: There is no established causal link between drinking wine and improving your heart health. At best, there is a loose correlation.

Many of the supposed heart benefits of wine are linked to a chemical called resveratrol. This powerful antioxidant is found in many types of fruit—including grapes. Resveratrol appears to boost heart health and reduce cholesterol, among other benefits.

But to get enough resveratrol to experience these benefits, you’d need to drink hundreds or thousands of liters of wine—which would be extremely unhealthy and practically impossible. So is it really the antioxidants in wine that help your heart?

Critics of studies on red wine health benefits bring up an important point: Wine drinking could be associated with other habits and choices that boost cardiovascular health—such as diet, exercise, and even socio-economic status. Mediterranean people, for example, may live longer for different reasons—and just happen to drink more wine by coincidence.

So, while there may be some health benefits to a glass of wine a day, ideas about wine and your heart health are likely blown out of proportion in the popular imagination.

Does Red Wine Lower Cholesterol?

Not exactly. While some research suggests moderate wine drinking might increase levels of good cholesterol, other research found that levels of LDL cholesterol (the harmful type) stayed the same in those who consumed red wine. In the same study, it was those who consumed nonalcoholic red wine who actually showed a decrease in LDL cholesterol levels.

As mentioned above, levels of antioxidants like resveratrol in red wine are likely too low to make any significant difference. Consuming fruits and vegetables, and skipping the alcohol, is probably a better bet if you want to reduce your cholesterol.

Read More: Alcohol and Cholesterol

Does Red Wine Lower Blood Pressure?

One recent study suggests that three glasses of red wine per week can have a positive impact on a person’s blood pressure. However, the same study showed similar benefits from other flavinoid-rich foods, and results were partially linked to participant’s gut health. In other words, you could also eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and get a similar benefit.

Considering heavy alcohol use is linked to higher blood pressure, if you struggle with chronic hypertension, there are probably better options than red wine.

Read more: Alcohol and Hypertension

Is Red Wine Anti-inflammatory?

group of women dining with red wine
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

The science behind red wine’s anti-inflammatory effects is also inconclusive. Red wine does contain anti-inflammatory compounds. However, once again, most of these substances are found at very low levels in wine, while on its own alcohol can cause inflammation. A wide range of other foods, including green leafy vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil, are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, without any of the downsides of wine.

Does Red Wine Thin Your Blood?

Red wine (and alcohol in general) can thin the blood, but moderation is key. If you drink in excessive amounts, you could be at risk for excessive bleeding, or even certain types of strokes. If you’re looking for help with blood thinning, it’s best to speak with your doctor about different options.

Does Red Wine Help With Weight Loss?

Studies on this are conflicting: There is research on mice and rats showing both increased and decreased weight gain from wine consumption. For humans, the effects of moderate wine consumption on weight are unclear. But one thing we do know: Consuming a large amount of alcohol adds many empty calories to your diet. If you want to drink red wine with dinner, be sure you are counting that glass among your daily calories.

Curious how drinking wine is affecting your weight? Try our alcohol calorie calculator

Red Wine and Your Liver

The relationship between red wine and your liver is actually a little more complicated. On the one hand, it’s well known that excessive alcohol consumption is destructive to your liver. On the other hand, when it comes to moderate drinking, there is some research that links modest wine consumption to lower fibrosis in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

There is an ongoing debate, in fact, about the safety of moderate drinking with fatty liver disease. Some researchers believe it is acceptable, while others recommend total abstinence.

One thing is for sure: If you have advanced liver damage, you should avoid alcohol at all costs. And overall, if you’re looking for a way to boost your liver health, alcoholic drinks shouldn’t be your first choice.

Read more: Early Signs of Liver Damage From Drinking

How Red Wine Affects Your Mood

people toasting wine glasses outdoors
Photo by rikkia hughes on Unsplash

Many people use red wine as a mood enhancer, or a way to de-stress at the end of a long day. A study even found that the resveratrol in wine may reduce the risk of developing depression and anxiety.

However, while the study results appear positive, the research was completed on mice. We don’t yet know for sure about resveratrol’s impact on humans. And, as with other health benefits of resveratrol, it seems likely that the levels found in red wine are too low to have a significant impact.

On the other hand, the effects of alcohol on your mental health are well-researched. Alcohol can ease depression and anxiety in the moment, but often makes things worse the morning after. And in the big picture, many people who drink excessively develop worse anxiety and depression as a consequence.

In other words, a glass or two of wine may be a temporary mood-booster. But if you struggle with chronic stress or anxiety, you’d be well-advised to avoid drinking wine as a habit.

Read more: Alcohol and Depression

How Red Wine Affects Your Gut

Many people feel that a glass of red wine with their dinner helps them digest their meal. And it’s true that a single glass is not a problem for most people. However, the science behind red wine and gut health is complicated.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to gut bacterial overgrowth, which can trigger a cascade of concerning symptoms, including liver damage. There may be some positive connection between the flavinoids in red wine and gut diversity, but much more research is needed. As in other cases, it’s likely that other fruits and vegetables are a safer path to the same goal.

Read more: Alcohol and Gut Health: Can Drinking Throw You Off Balance?

The Bottom Line on Red Wine Health Benefits

In recent years, many Americans have increased their consumption of wine. One common reason is the belief that red wine contributes to greater overall heart health among the French, and other Mediterranean peoples. If you believe the hype, red wine appears to be a cure-all, helping people with everything from lowering cholesterol to losing weight.

However, when you look at the big picture, there are many downsides associated with red wine drinking—particularly if one drinks more than a moderate amount. And the research suggests that many of the health benefits of red wine are, in fact, blown out of proportion.

If you do choose to drink red wine, it’s important to stick to one or two glasses per day. And if you’re concerned about your heart health, or any of the other issues mentioned above, it’s best to talk to your physician about the best ways to look after yourself.

If you find yourself drinking too much wine, there are new solutions for cutting back or quitting alcohol. Ria Health offers a 100 percent online program, customizable to your unique needs and goals. Learn more about how it works, or get started today.

Written By:
Jessica Thomas
Public health professional and writer with a passion for educating others on health and tech topics.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Writer specializing in targeted, informative content. Dedicated to making the abstract accessible.
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