Is wine good for you? Everyone wants to think that the thing they enjoy is actually good for them too.
But famously, alcohol tends not to make the list. It’s just one of the many reasons why so many people give up drinking altogether. Whether it’s the number of calories in every pint, the unpreventable hangover that often follows a heavy night of drinking, or the increased risk of cancer that come with long-term binge drinking, our favourite alcoholic beverages have been proven time and time again to be bad for us.
So why has red wine been slowly etched onto the list of alcoholic drinks with health benefits – and are any of these claims actually true? To find out the truth, we’ve put the most common “health” claims for red wine to experts Claire Murphy, dietician and registered nutritionist at Last Verdict, and Leyla Moudden, naturopath at Enzymedica UK.
Is wine actually good for you?
Most of us know that wine is not actually good for us. As Claire Murphy explains, “High levels of ethanol is bad for the immune system and will not stimulate immunity and virus resistance. Its consumption is likely to increase the health risks of a person in the long run.”
And while there are claims which have some merit, they’re not actually applicable to real life. Sure, wine red has antioxidants, but due to the final amount actually in the bottle, the benefits don’t really add up.
Naturally though, as when it comes to anything to do with diet, it’s everything in moderation. As Claire says, “Will you live a long and healthy life without red wine if you drink and eat healthily? Yes. Will red wine cause massive problems if you moderately drink it while living a healthy lifestyle? No.”
Can drinking wine help to slow down the ageing process?
The claim: This is one of the most common “health benefits” of wine. Studies supposedly “proving” the anti-ageing benefits of alcohol have been coming out for years. But the study conducted by the University of Iowa in 2015 is one of the most recent. This one claims research shows those who drank moderately aged more healthily than those who drank excessively – or were even completely sober.
What our expert says: While it’s clear where this claim has come from, it’s unfortunately not entirely true.
“Red wine is an easily accessible source of a compound called resveratrol, which has been studied extensively for its many health benefits – one of which includes anti-ageing effects,” says Leyla. “It activates a set of enzymes in the body called sirtuins. These enzymes protect and improve the quality of cells as they regenerate. Resveratrol is in many plants, but it is particularly abundant in red grapes. Of all red grapes, the red grapes of the Pinot Noir France have the highest level of resveratrol content. This is how the red wine and health relationship came to be linked.
But while we can appreciate the amazing benefits of resveratrol, we can’t forget that alcohol has the opposite effect. “Alcohol is very ageing and is particularly detrimental to the skin and detoxification organs. Any benefits of red wine due to the high resveratrol content have to balance with the ageing effects of the alcohol. Red wine is also a potent source of compounds called phenols. These are compounds that some people can have a sensitivity reaction to without realising it. For those that have headaches or dire hangovers after small amounts of red wine, there may be a phenol intolerance. This form of inflammation is ageing to the body.”
So what the real secret to slowing down ageing if it’s not red wine? Leyla explains that human cells are a little like photographs. They are full of all the detail we need to create every part of our body. As we age, our cells regenerate – which is a bit like a photocopied photograph.
“If we took the photocopied image, and copied it again – we would lose even more detail,” she says. “And again, the same is the case with human cells, each time they regenerate, they lose more and more detail. Healthy ageing is when our cells have an outstanding copier function that preserves as much detail of the original cell as possible.”
So to support this “copier function”, Leyla says, we need “an abundance of nutrients, good detoxification systems and reduced burden on the body, especially digestive burden which requires a great deal of energy and detoxification to process. This is why digestion becomes more sensitive and tiring as we age. Couple these elements with good sleep and good rest, and you have the recipe for healthy ageing.”
Can a glass of wine before bed really help you lose weight?
The claim: This is another popular “health benefit” of red wine in particular, with research from Harvard University widely cited as supporting the claim. The study tracked the weight of 20,000 women over a period of time to investigate trends in obesity. They discovered many correlations. One of them was that women who drank red wine were 70% less likely to be obese than those who didn’t. Other studies have suggested that drinking late at night can also help satiate food cravings.
What our expert says: It’s easy to see where this thought process has come from, Leyla says, but it’s unfortunately probably not true.
“There are two studies that have contributed to this belief,” she explains. “The first study was conducted on mice and relates to the different types of fat tissue in the human body. The human body can store what researchers call brown, beige or white fat. The body creates brown fat for a functional reason, such as to keep the body warm during winter. Beige fat is a baby white fat cell. It will still generate energy, but it will not be as efficient or useful as brown fat. White fat is fat that has little useful purpose. It’s most commonly underneath the skin as stomach fat.
“In a study on mice, the researchers gave mice resveratrol. This is a compound in red grapes and so is also in red wine. In the study, mice consuming resveratrol had white cells turn to beige.”
This is where the initial thinking that wine can help transform some fats comes from. However, Leyla says, “It’s worth noting that studies on mice are very controlled. They cannot take into consideration all of the elements of human life that contribute to weight gain and loss. This includes things such as stress, eating habits, lifestyle and sleep. What we can conclude is that resveratrol is a highly beneficial compound, that affects the type of fat that mice store.”
The second study, she says, was the one conducted at Harvard. “They found many correlations, and one of them was that women who drank red wine were 70% less likely to be obese than those who didn’t. This was an observation rather than a cause-and-effect relationship, as it would be completely inaccurate to say that there are no obese red wine drinkers for example.”
But there is some good news. “For some people, red wine is their only source of resveratrol. Having a small amount of red wine in the diet will give the body an amount of resveratrol, which can be beneficial in creating a healthy diet. Grapes, nuts and red berries also contain resveratrol. Non-alcoholic red wine will confer many more health benefits than the alcohol containing counterparts.”
As for nipping food cravings in the bud, sensible thought will tell you that having a late night snack that’s rich in protein (which naturally fills you up) is a better idea for weight loss than two glasses of red wine. On average, two 125ml glasses of red wine come in at 212 calories. While a banana with 15g of peanut butter is only about 188 calories and is sure to be more filling, plus has that sugary hit we often want late in the evening.
Can red wine help to reduce the chances of diabetes or a stroke?
The claim: This same compound, resveratrol, is listed as the main health benefit of red wine. Some studies suggest that it produces chemical changes that can help reduce the risk of many dangerous medical conditions, including a stroke.
One study suggests this is because resveratrol decreases inflammation, which contributes to brain injury caused by a stroke. Inflammation tends to create congestion in the blood vessels and in turn, increases the chances of cerebrovascular disease, heart disease, and hemorrhagic stroke.