On Trial: Red Wine

August 8, 2013


Wine – particularly red wine – has been praised for its health benefits since ancient times. Hieroglyphics extolling wine’s virtues date back all the way to ancient Egypt and Sumeria – but is it really all that good?

The Defense

Full-bodied red wine is full of polyephenols, which are powerful antioxidants. The rule of thumb is: The darker the wine the more polyephenol it has. So if you can’t see through it, it’s good for you. How good? Red wine lowers “bad” cholesterol and increases levels of “good” cholesterol, so it helps prevent artery damage. Further, it decreases inflammation and lowers blood pressure.

Studies suggest that drinking red wine along with a meal can counter the effects of fatty foods, delaying or even decreasing their absorption into the body. Wine is even said to help prevent certain diseases, including colon cancer and prostate cancer. Drinking red wine helps fight off dementia and protects drinkers from hearing loss.

The Prosecution

Red wine, like all alcoholic beverages, contains alcohol, which is a toxin that damages the cells that make up the human body. Long-term heavy alcohol consumption has damaging effects on bone tissue, increasing the frequency of fractures.

Some studies have linked even moderate consumption of alcohol to an increased risk for cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, and stomach. Heavy drinkers are more likely to develop heart disease and potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias. And the long term effects of heavy drinking prevent new brain cell development and make major depressive disorders more likely.

Resveratrol, the key antioxidant in red wine, has been researched mostly on animals, not people. So although studies have shown that wine might help prevent obesity and diabetes, those findings were reported only in happy drunk mice – not in people.

To get the same dose of resveratrol used in the mouse experiments, a person would have to drink over 60 liters of red wine every single day. A recent Danish study has shown that red wine provides no health benefits at all to obese drinkers, raising doubts about the justification of resveratrol as a nutritional supplement altogether.

The Verdict

The contradicting studies suggest that red wine can contribute to a healthy diet, but the results are far from conclusive. While more research is needed to establish wine’s positive effects, however, the Prosecution has not established negative results from moderate wine consumption.

The court therefore rules in favor of the Defense. Enjoy red wine in moderation. Just remember: Drinking one glass a day means drinking a single wineglass of Cabernet or Merlot – not an entire glass bottle.

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