Consistent evidence from numerous studies indicate that moderate alcohol consumption one or two drinks a day) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and premature death. But research is conflicting as to whether red wine is actually more beneficial than other forms of alcohol.
Red wine’s alleged advantages are often attributed to an antioxidant called resveratrol, which is found in grape skins. (Because white wine is generally produced without the skins, it contains little if any resveratrol.) Studies in animals and test tubes suggest that the compound may have cardiovascular benefits, including relaxing blood vessels, preventing blood clots, and reducing inflammation. There’s evidence that other substances in red wine, such as flavanols–which are in dark chocolate as well–may also be good for the heart.
Wine drinkers tend to smoke less and have more healthful diets than other imbibers, according to research. As a result, any apparent health advantages of red wine could be due to the drinkers rather than the drink.
But other research shows that alcohol itself may help the heart by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol and preventing blood clots. This raises the question of whether it’s really the alcohol that explains any benefits of red wine. Cohort studies don’t provide clear answers. In some research, wine (both red and white) was associated with lower rates of heart disease and death, while the benefits of beer and hard liquor were smaller or nonexistent. In other studies, all moderate drinkers appeared to benefit equally, regardless of what type of alcohol they consumed.
Another consideration is that wine drinkers tend to smoke less and have more healthful diets than other imbibers, according to research. As a result, any apparent health advantages of red wine could be due to the drinkers rather than the drink.
Which Type Of Wine Is The Best Friend To Your Heart?
Although, it has long been acknowledged that red wine can be good for the heart, there are actually certain other varieties which may be better than others. An important element of red wine are procyanidins, which help to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and protect against hardening of the arteries. The most procyanidin-rich wines tend to be those in which the grapes – including skins and seeds – have remained in contact with the wine during fermentation and afterwards.
Two wine-growing regions which boast high concentrations of procyanidins are the Nuoro province in Sardinia (which produces the Cannonau grape), and Madiran in the Pyrenees. Wines from these areas contain up to ten times more beneficial compounds than their counterparts from Australia, South Africa and the United States. Other red wines that have a relatively high level of procyanidin include certain types of Cabernet Sauvignon and wines containing Nebbiolo grapes.
What To Look For: Look for wines from the Madiran and CÙtes de Saint Mont regions of France and from the Sagrantino and Nebbiolo regions of Italy. Cabernet Sauvignon is generally better than Merlot or Shiraz, with Chilean and Argentinean Cabernets the best choice. Pinot Noir is generally a poor choice as its low in procyanidins.
The main difference between white and red wine is how the skin of the grape is used. With red, the skins are crushed along with the pulp. In white, the skins are quickly separated out. However, white wine can still have health benefits as there are other types of polyphenols in the grape itself which could lower levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. Last year, Italian scientists found that both red and white wines are effective anti-bacterial agents against strains of streptomorecoccus, which causes infections such as sore throats.
They put this down to acids in the wine which can protect against and destroy bacteria, but red is better at this than white. White wine also contains potassium which may help lower blood pressure (though the same amount could be derived from drinking fruit juice), and prevents the creation of molecules which can damage lung tissue.
Because white wine contains the compounds tyrosol and caffeic acid, which act as anti-inflammatory and antioxidants, scientists at the University of Milan believe it could help prevent rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. They said two glasses a day could produce a reduced inflammatory reaction, but higher consumption cancelled out these benefits. Other researchers have found that Chardonnay is highest in antioxidants known as polyphenols, while Sauvignon Blanc has anti-inflammatory properties.
Research by Italian and American researchers found that consumption of white wine protects against heart attacks. Their study featured three wines: Two Tocai and a Verduzzo from the Friuli Venezia region of Italy. On the downside, white wine can make your stomach secrete more acid than normal, which can lead to nausea. White wines such as Reisling and Pinot Grigio also tend to be sweeter and thus have calories. However, white wine is the preferred option for migraine sufferers since it is low in the headache-inducing compound tyramine, unlike many red and rosé wines. Incidentally, if you’re wondering why white wine is less likely to cause a hangover, it’s because it lacks congeners – chemicals produced during fermentation.
What To Look For: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Look for wines from the Friuli Venezia region of Italy.
Unlike red wine, rosé is generally made from a relatively short contact between the liquid and the grape seeds and skins, so it has fewer health benefits than red. However, taken as part of moderate alcohol consumption, rosé can have benefits. A recent Danish study concluded that people who drink up to two and a half bottles of wine a week – roughly two glasses a day – have a lower risk of premature death than those who abstain from alcohol. Researchers also found that being physically active and drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is important for lowering the risk of fatal ischaemic heart disease.
Alcohol Free Wine
This is made in the same way as normal wine, except the alcohol is removed after initial fermentation. As well as removing the health risks associated with alcohol – such as mouth and throat cancer – alcohol-free wine may provide added protection against disease. A study by the University of Glasgow found that purple grape juice was the most effective at preventing heart disease and cancer. It had the highest concentration of antioxidants – chemicals which help to neutralise harmful oxygen molecules called free radicals – of all varieties of fruit juice. If left unchecked, these molecules can harm cells, and so play a part in everything from ageing to cancer.
The grapes used are not sprayed with chemicals or pesticides, which have been linked to cancer, though there is no conclusive evidence. Organic wines contain fewer preservatives known as sulphites which have been linked to asthma and respiratory problems. Ideally, wines labelled 100 per cent organic should be free from sulphites.