This week I’ve attended more happy hours and dinner parties than I’d care to count.
During these events, I couldn’t help but realize how often women ordered wine as their drink of choice. This behavior got me thinking, “Do ladies really LOVE wine that much, or are we choosing wine because we think it’s a healthier option?
We’ve all been told countless times that wine is healthy. Whether it’s your friends, social media, or a radio talk show, the message is everywhere.
In all honesty, I think calling wine “healthy” is a bit of a misnomer that can cause more harm than good. Yes, it’s true that wine contains antioxidants and other plant chemicals associated with various health benefits, but does that really make it healthy?
The answer to this question requires us to take a step back and review the science behind this age-old debate. The health benefits of red wine are most commonly related to its effects on the heart, as well as the entire cardiovascular system (which includes your heart and blood vessels).
Plant antioxidants found in red wine, known as polyphenols or polyphenolic compounds, are credited in promoting cardiovascular health.
Of specific interest is the association between these chemical compounds and reduced atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque forms inside your blood vessels, making them narrower and limiting the flow of oxygen throughout your body. Unfortunately, this process can lead to serious, life-threatening problems, such as heart attack, stroke, or even death.
One of the polyphenols in wine, known as resveratrol, is believed to be the key chemical responsible for wine’s cardioprotective effects. Although most studies have been conducted in animals, some research shows resveratrol may reduce the risk of inflammation and blood clotting.
Studies have also shown red wine may:
- Raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol
- Help prevent damage due to high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol
- Assist the body in making more nitric oxide (NO), which protects against blood vessel injury
- Reduce the formation of blood clots
One interesting study, known as The Copenhagen City Heart Study, which included 13,285 men and women over a 12 year period, showed that patients who drank wine had half the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke compared to those who never drank wine specifically (not other liquors).
While these studies types of studies can show correlations, they aren’t capable of demonstrating causation, which means other factors may also be responsible for the results.
On the other hand…
Wine is a form of alcohol, which means it is both high in calories (more than double that of protein or carbs) and dangerous in excessive amounts. Since one 8 ounce glass contains a couple hundred calories, it’s easy to see how this habit can turn you from healthy to hefty without practicing moderation.
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having 1 drink per day for women.
But how often do we stop at one?
Dinners and social events involve bottles of wine, not a single glass. This definition is also not intended to serve as an average over the entire week, but in a single day. This means we can’t abstain from alcohol Monday-Thursday to drink 4 glasses on Friday.
The heart healthy benefits of wine are also lost when consumed in large amounts.
Long term excessive alcohol use may result in your heart being unable to pump blood throughout your body and eventually lead to hear failure. In addition to the heart, the liver is also severely damaged as the result of excess alcohol use.
According to official recommendations from the American Heart Association, individuals should discuss alcohol use with their physician on a case-by-case basis. Additional risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, and diabetes, may also cause your physican to discourage alcohol use.
Essentially, all this research can be summarized in three key takeaways:
1. Heavy drinkers should cut back on alcohol intake
2. Moderate drinkers may or may not experience cardiovascular benefit (still unclear)
3. Non-drinkers shouldn’t start drinking to protect against atherosclerosis!
Although wine does have some health benefits, it’s not an essential part of a balanced diet and should always be consumed in moderation. Due to it’s high calorie content, most women choose to drink wine as a “cheat” or “splurge”, as opposed to a diet staple.