You’ve most likely heard the rumor — that indulging in a little red wine every so often could actually improve your heart health over time. While it’s true that doctors have made a connection between red wine consumption and a reduction in heart attacks (particularly those caused by coronary artery disease), the actual science behind the phenomena is not completely understood. As a result, the truth of this rumor is a little murky. Let’s take a look at the special ingredients present in red wine that have cardiologists split on this theory, and where the limits lie.
Red wine is rich in antioxidants known as polyphenols, which are believed to help protect the lining of blood vessels within the heart. One polyphenol, in particular, stands out from the pack: resveratrol. Resveratrol is found in the skin of the grapes used to make wine; because red wine is fermented longer than white (meaning the skins are left in contact with the alcohol for longer), a higher concentration of resveratrol is found in red wine.
Although more research is needed to truly determine whether or not resveratrol has a positive impact on your heart health, many studies show that it plays a role in preventing damage to blood vessels. It has also been found to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — that nasty “bad” cholesterol our doctors always warn us about — and prevent blood clots. The side effect of these results is simple: with a lower risk of inflammation and blood clotting, your risk of heart disease in general is also lowered.
It has also been suggested that the alcohol itself may play a beneficial role in supporting heart health. A number of studies have shown that moderate amounts of all and any types of alcohol can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, also known as the “good” cholesterol, reduce the formation of blood clots, help prevent artery damage caused by high levels of LDL cholesterol, and potentially improve the function of the layer of cells that line your blood vessels.
Exceptions and Restrictions
Before you head over to your nearest liquor store and pick up a bottle of your favorite red, however, it’s important to note that all of these studies focus on red wine or alcohol consumption in moderation. Moderate drinking, as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), is one drink per day for women and one to two drinks per day for men. That might be even less than it sounds: 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
At the same time, there are certain medical conditions that can affect how your body — and your heart — responds to alcohol. For example, myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be caused by a number of different factors, from a simple infection to an inflammatory disease. Myocarditis awareness has been increasing in recent years, but it is still a very rare condition. Before you begin self-medicating with a glass of heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory red wine, make sure you speak with your doctor. Yes. some studies have reported an improvement through moderate red wine consumption, but overdoing it can be exceptionally dangerous.
The Final Verdict
Health conditions aside, most doctors agree on one thing: if you don’t already regularly drink red wine, don’t start just for the health benefits. If you make routine trips to the liquor store to stock up on the stuff, however, there’s no harm in including one glass a day to support your heart. Use your best judgment, and talk to your physician if you have any questions or concerns.