There is a huge debate in the scientific community regarding the benefits of consuming alcohol. Although doctors recommend little consumption of alcohol because of its effects on triglycerides and bad blood lipids, red wine seems to be different (Guilford and Pezzuto in Higgins & Llanos, 2015: 4). The moderate consumption of wine is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease due to the resveratrol and polyphenolic components. Also, the same components found in wine may also protect against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
What are they? They are substances synthesized in grapes. “They are responsible for the color, body, and astringency of wines and are largely responsible for the differences between red or white grapes or wines, the presence or absence of anthocyanins. Thus, phenolic compounds are of fundamental importance in the characteristics of wines ”(Cabrita, Silva and Loureano, 2003: 61).
What is its impact on humans? Phenolic compounds act as potent antioxidants in the stomach by inhibiting fat oxidation (preventing LDL formation (Ursini & Sevanian in Charters, 2006)). It is important to notice that these benefits are more closely linked to red wine: this type of wine has about 200 different types of phenolic compounds and related phenolic compounds, which are related to grape variety, climate, and maturation.
“What is important is that the most common polyphenols, such as catechins, quercetin, and resveratrol, have varying yet physiologically important functions which are anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-thrombotic, anti-tumor, anti-proliferative and vasodilative. There is also good evidence that these different polyphenols act collectively. The ability of wine polyphenols to inhibit the oxidation of fats in the stomach, thereby preventing the formation of hyper-reactive LDL particles in the bloodstream, seems well established” (Ursini & Sevanian, in Charters, 2006: 255).
Resveratrol: it is also an antioxidant found in grapes, blueberries, and cocoa. It acts on the inhibition of inflammation and compounds that prevent the correct production of insulin.
What are the benefits of these compounds?
There is a U-Shape relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality. People who consume moderately alcohol have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, with a percentage of ± 40% (of lower risk).
In the study done by the Copenhagen City Heart Study (1995) concluded that the risk of death from cardiovascular disease decreased with the increase of red wine consumption. But for those who drank other drinks – spirits, for example, mortality increased. Although this study is ‘old’, similar results could be found in 2009. A study done by Djoussè and colleagues shows that a “J-shaped curve” was found in women: the daily intake of 5-15g of alcohol was associated with a 26% reduction in cardiovascular disease, 35% overall mortality and 51% death from cardiovascular disease. ,
Not only cardiovascular health gets some benefits from the wine compounds, but also the nervous system. The components of red wine influence in the antiinflammatory activities and antioxidant capacity, as well as the ability to antagonize amyloid aggregation, suppress neuroinflammation, modulate signaling pathways, and decrease mitochondrial dysfunction (Cauchi & Vassallo, 2016: 11) All of these may help neural survival in the long term. Thus, consuming low-to-moderate wine quantities may bring neural benefits to individuals. The opposite, however, may lead to a number of deadly diseases. Thus, moderation is key.
All in all…
Excessive wine consumption (and other alcoholic beverages) leads to a great number of diseases (such as cirrhosis, higher risk of developing cancer, neuropathies, pancreatitis, etc.), social problems, decreased performance and reduced longevity.
However, consuming wine as a therapeutic practice should be treated carefully. People who are not regular consumers can consume a high amount of wine, which may lead to problems associated with overdrinking: “On the basis of the available data, it would seem reasonable to recommend that patients who currently drink try to move towards moderate consumption of wine over that of beer and spirits. Importantly, there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend that abstainers initiate drinking for health benefits, or for light drinkers to increase their alcohol consumption ”(Lindberg and Amsterdam, 2007: 350). In addition, the wine itself is a sugar, and it is easily absorbed by the body. Therefore, it can be considered as an “empty calories” drink (without nutritional value) and that might easily lead to weight gain. Finally, the beneficial substances present in grapes may vary in amount from grape to grape: “the biological role of resveratrol is still controversial, especially because many red wines contain negligible amounts of it and some winemakers have already been drawn down the route of trying to increase resveratrol levels in their wine, thus focusing on focus on the tannin components ”(Lippi, Franchini & Guidi, 2010: 5). All in all, I would personally stick to low-to-moderate red wine consumption. 🙂
Caruana M, Cauchi R and Vassallo N (2016) Putative Role of Red Wine Polyphenols against Brain Pathology in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Frontiers in Nutrition, 3:31. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2016.00031
Charters, Steve. 2006. Wine and Society: The Social and Cultural Context of a Drink. Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, London.
Cabrita, M.J; Ricardo-da-Silva J.; Laureano, O. 2003. Os Compostos Polifenólicos das Uvas e dos Vinhos. I Seminario Internacional De Vitivinicultura.
Higgins, L.; Llanos, E. 2015. A healthy indulgence? Wine consumers and the health benefits of wine. Wine Economics and Policy, Volume 4 (1): 3-11.
Lindberg, M and Amsterdam. 2008. Alcohol, Wine, and Cardiovascular Health. Clin. Cardiol. 31,8,347–351.
Lippi, G; Franchini, M; Guidi, G. 2010. Red Wine and Cardiovascular Health: The French Paradox Revisited. International Journal of Wine Research 2010:2 1–7