Is red wine actually good for your heart?

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Health / Nutrition

Estimated reading time: 6mins

Is red wine actually good for your heart?

Red wine and heart health

Previous research as early as 2019 has found one glass or two of red wine to be beneficial for heart health. Specifically, intake has been related to a lesser risk for coronary heart disease.

This is due to polyphenolic compounds like:

  • Resveratrol
  • Catechin
  • Epicatechin
  • Quercetin
  • Anthocyanin

And the one you read about most tends to be resveratrol; considered the most effective wine compound for preventing coronary heart disease due to its antioxidants.

Resveratrol "works" due to its positive effects on lipid profiles, its reduction of insulin resistance, and its ability to decrease oxidative stress (oxidative stress is the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body).

Great, so keep on consuming red wine for optimal heart health then?

Well, sadly, this isn't the narrative science is painting anymore.

Before we get into the featured study of this article, a recent study broke the hearts of red wine drinkers everywhere.

We learnt we'd have to drink about 500 litres of red wine to consume enough resveratrol to benefit.

And it's what I've been saying to you for some time: it's the DOSE that makes the poison, likewise, the DOSE that delivers the BENEFIT.

In this case, we don't get enough resveratrol from just a few glasses of wine, and 500 litres is obviously very unhealthy!

It's the same reason we need to supplement with creatine to get enough to benefit; the creatine found in our food (ie meat) isn't high enough.

The featured study: red wine and heart health

So with all of this being said, a very recent study has analysed the connection between genes linked to alcohol intake and heart issues.

And it found that drinking ANY amount was associated with an increased risk of disease.

The research examined genetic and medical data of nearly 400,000 people in the U.K. The data was in relation to genetic, lifestyle, and health information available for public health research.

And low alcohol intake was associated with a small increased risk of cardiovascular issues, such as hypertension and coronary artery disease, with the risk ramping up exponentially with heavier consumption.

It also suggested that modest consumption of red wine probably doesn't decrease the risk of heart disease.

Red wine might not be as good for our hearts as we once thought.
Red wine might not be as good for our hearts as we once thought.

The senior author of the study said that the narrative might have been the wrong way around: the low intake of alcohol from certain populations is associated with a better diet and exercise, and THIS is the reason there's been lower risk of cardiovascular issues.

In other words, we've thought red wine to be the reason people are having fewer heart health issues, but really, it's because those drinking a very moderate amount of alcohol are actually much healthier all round: exercising regularly and eating better.

And this is the issue with observational research, it provides a great hypothesis warranting further study but never gives us any solid answers.

So once the researchers adjusted the data to remove these healthy lifestyle factors — the heart health benefits of being in the light and moderate categories disappeared: any alcohol consumption was then associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

The authors noted that the correlation was a J-shaped curve, meaning the risks shoot up exponentially with heavy alcohol use.

And yep, this included not only alcohol in general but red wine, too.

For a clearer picture, the risk of coronary artery disease for men, after other health factors were taken away, was about 75 per cent higher for light and moderate drinkers compared to non-drinkers.

And the risk was 225 per cent higher for heavier drinkers, and 660 per cent for abusive drinkers.

So how much alcohol is "healthy?"

Well, that's impossible to say. But we'll get back to that in a moment.

We should still enjoy alcohol in moderation if we are on top of our weight, don’t smoke, eat well, and exercise regularly.
We should still enjoy alcohol in moderation if we are on top of our weight, don’t smoke, eat well, and exercise regularly.

Another recent study looked at the risk factors for death and disability from alcohol from 694 data sources from around the world, stretching from 1990 to 2016. And one of its conclusions?

The level of alcohol consumption that minimised harm across health outcomes was zero standard drinks per week.

Yikes!

So, what do we take away from our feature study?

Well, that depends on who you ask. You could say:

  1. All alcohol consumption is bad for heart health
  2. If we exercise, eat well, don't become overweight, and don't smoke, this can counterbalance the daily beer or glass of wine.

And I'm running with the latter! 

The bottom line on red wine and heart health

Moderate alcohol consumption of 1-2 glasses per day, particularly red wine, isn't good for our heart health as once thought. When more rigorous research is carried out, we learn that the data was misleading: those drinking a very moderate amount of alcohol were actually much healthier all round due to their exercising and better eating.

The truth is drinking ANY amount of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of disease in better-designed studies. But we should keep drinking our 1-2 glasses a night if we enjoy that, and not stress; because if we're not smoking, not overweight, and eating well and exercising, we are to some degree counterbalancing the negative effects of alcohol.

Also, we must enjoy our lives, and can't be too fixated on being "perfect".

References:

  1. Biddinger KJ, Emdin CA, Haas ME, et al. Association of Habitual Alcohol Intake With Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(3):e223849. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.3849
  2. Castaldo L, Narváez A, Izzo L, Graziani G, Gaspari A, Minno GD, Ritieni A. Red Wine Consumption and Cardiovascular Health. Molecules. 2019 Oct 8;24(19):3626. doi: 10.3390/molecules24193626. PMID: 31597344; PMCID: PMC6804046.
  3. GBD 2016 Alcohol Collaborators. Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet. 2018 Sep 22;392(10152):1015-1035. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2. Epub 2018 Aug 23. Erratum in: Lancet. 2018 Sep 29;392(10153):1116. Erratum in: Lancet. 2019 Jun 22;393(10190):e44. PMID: 30146330; PMCID: PMC6148333.
  4. Sabine Weiskirchen, Ralf Weiskirchen, Resveratrol: How Much Wine Do You Have to Drink to Stay Healthy?, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 7, Issue 4, July 2016, Pages 706–718, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.011627.
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