Health Benefits of Wine

By Dirk Smits

The relationship between wine and health has fascinated both oenophiles and teetotalers for centuries. In 1724, London physician Dr. Peter Shaw proclaimed “wine preferable to water” in his book In Juice of the Grape, a pioneering examination of dietary health. Then, in the mid-1800s, Louis Pasteur declared: “Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.

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But it is only within the past several decades that real scientific evidence has revealed wine’s effects on health. The verdict? The issue is layered with pros and cons. Most of the discoveries have pointed to the benefits of alcohol in general, but the buzz has specifically focused on wine as a tool in fighting heart disease.

The serious interest in its link to cardiovascular health began in the 1980s, and with it, the coining of the wine lover’s favorite phrase, “French Paradox.” (The French Paradox refers to the discovery that while the French consume high-fat foods — a primary contributor to coronary heart disease — they also drink wine on a regular basis which negates the damaging effects of high-fat foods). So is wine more beneficial to health than other forms of alcohol?

U.C. Davis professor and well-known chemist Dr. Andrew Waterhouse published one of the leading works on the subject, “Wine and Heart Disease,” which first appeared in Chemistry & Industry in 1995. In his work, Waterhouse explored evidence that skins and seeds of grapes contain remarkable amounts of antioxidants. Because red wines receive more contact with skins and seeds than white during the winemaking process, they become richer in antioxidants, although white wine do also have measurable amounts of antioxidants.

A primary antioxidant found in grape skins is resveratrol, noted for its ability to inhibit the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Pinot Noir has been singled out for containing the highest levels of resveratrol among commonly consumed wine grapes.

Explains Waterhouse, resveratrol —along with a number of other antioxidants found in grapes, such as querciten — have been scientifically proven to slow the development of arterial plaque, thus slowing or, optimally, preventing the development of heart disease. Oddly, however, simply consuming red grapes or grape juice does not offer the same benefit as drinking wine. Apparently, it’s the anti-platelet effect of wine that makes an impact on heart heath.

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Wine is considered as beneficial to the skin as it is to the heart. These days, it is considered as beneficial to the skin as it is to the heart. Applying the knowledge of its antioxidant properties, many beauty products now feature concentrated levels of grape antioxidants, which promise to slow down and even reverse skin damage caused by free radicals. Spa treatments using wine (aka vinotherapy) and grape seed are increasingly common for the purported benefits to the skin.

Yet despite all the hype surrounding the curative properties of grapes, medical traditionalists warn of the dangers of consuming alcohol, particularly the risks to women. Some studies have shown that more than two drinks a day raises the risk of breast cancer.

There are merits to the arguments for and against wine as long as there’s moderation. So what exactly is moderation?

The American government defines it as one drink per day. However, the Australians and Brits use a more generous definition of two daily drinks per woman and four daily drinks per man. When it comes down to it, drinking is a personal decision; for some people, a glass a day is too much. Be prudent and remember: A couple of glasses, several times a week can be of less consequence to the body than the benefits it provides to the soul.