You've probably heard before that red wine can have an impact on heart health.  But what exactly is it about this beloved beverage that can keep you living better, longer? Studies on red wine began to emerge when scientists realized that the French, despite indulging in rich, buttery, and fatty foods, experience less obesity and live longer than people in many other countries, including the U.S.  The French also drink a lot of red wine--280 glasses per year, as compared with the average American consumption of 68 glasses per year.  Could there be a connection? The answer is: probably.  Although many studies have produced conflicting results, most seem to show that a moderate consumption of wine has health benefits.  Certain components of red wine appear to keep the heart healthy.  They are:
  • Alcohol: Alcohol raises HDL cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, often called the "good" cholesterol on the evening news.  It helps keep blood clots from forming, and prevents artery damage.  Alcohol may also improve heart health by helping you relax, lowering deadly stress.
  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids are antioxidants found in many foods, including tea, onions, cocoa, and oranges.  White wine and beer have them too, but the levels are much higher in red wine.  These types of antioxidant, called polyphenols, help protect the lining of the blood vessels in your heart.
  • Nonflavonoids: Another type of polyphenol, nonflavonoids have become the focus of recent studies.  In mice, they have been shown to help prevent arteries from becoming clogged with fatty deposits--perhaps the reason the French way of accompanying frites (french fries) with red wine has worked out so well for them.  The nonflavonoid that has received the most attention of late is resveratrol.
  • Resveratrol: Resveratrol, found in the skins of wine grapes, might be a key ingredient in red wine's apparent ability to reduce damage to blood vessels, prevent blood clots, and reduce "bad" cholesterol.  Red wine has about 10 times more resveratrol than white wine.  Research in mice indicates that resveratrol protects from diabetes and obesity, and may reduce inflammation and blood clotting.  All of these things are associated with heart disease.
Of course, all these studies also show that drinking too much wine is much worse for you than not drinking any at all.  Most health professionals suggest one to two glasses a day, with meals.  So be sure to drink in moderation. But the next time you're filling your glass, you might want to choose red wine.  And make a toast to your heart.