While there is a lot of information and bad media regarding heavy and binge drinking (and rightly so), the benefits of light to moderate drinking are worth taking note of. Interestingly, the French, who traditionally consume high cholesterol foods such as cheese, pastries and pates in high quantities, have the second lowest rate of heart disease in the world (Japanese have the lowest). The consumption of red wine in France is ranked higher than any other country, and while this is the case the French are not heavy drinkers they just consume in small quantities on a regular basis. Research suggests that the regular consumption of red wine helps to keep heart disease so low. Numerous studies from around the world have supported research findings from French population studies, suggesting that those who drink a little on a regular basis have the best health, particularly in relation to heart disease, even better than those who abstain from alcohol completely. So why is red wine so good for you?
Red wine contains over 50 phenolic compounds, also known as polyphenols. Polyphenols function as anti-oxidants which benefit the body in a number of ways including helping to prevent blood clotting, reducing thickening of the arterial walls and keeping the blood vessels ‘elastic’ under increased blood flow. All of these things ensure the blood flows freely (similar to the effects of aspirin) and this is why red wine is dubbed the ‘heart protector’.
In addition to the protective effects red wine provides the heart, red wine consumption has other health benefits:
A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia found that red wine has anti-microbial properties which help to destroy harmful food-borne microbials that cause ulcers, and yet do not harm the naturally good bacteria found in our intestinal tract. The synergistic effect of organic acids (malic and tartaric acid), ethanol and the low PH is believed to give red wine it’s anti-microbial properties.
A phenolic compound known as Resveratrol gives red wine anti-fungal properties. Resveratrol, produced by the grape itself, has been found to fight off fungal infections. Quercetin, epicatechin and rutin also found in Red wine have the same anti-fungal effects as Resveratrol, and are meant to be more powerful and present in larger concentrations. Resveratrol has also been linked to reducing the risk of ischemic stroke and inhibiting tumour growth.
So is white wine as good as red wine? Apparently not. Research has found that red wine is more beneficial than white wine. Red wine has 10 times more of the chemical benefits because it is made with the grape skin and seeds.
While all of this information is great it is important to remember that heavy consumption of alcohol is not going to increase these benefits, but it will in fact have the opposite effect on your body. Too much alcohol can cause depletion in B Vitamins, Zinc (important for the prostate) and magnesium. Excessive drinking can also increase your risk of cancer, blood pressure and obesity. Government standards recommend that men have no more than 4.5 standard drinks per day and women no more than 2 standard drinks per day (for more information on standard drinks check out http://www.alcohol.gov.au/). Both men and women should have at least 2 alcohol free days per week to give your body a rest.
It would appear that the French have found a happy medium where they drink regularly but in small quantities and this balance means they enjoy the health benefits. Although the have a high cholesterol diet, smoke more and exercise less that Australians they have a much lower chance of dying from heart disease. Maybe one glass of red wine with dinner every few days is OK.