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Red Wine: Helpful or Harmful?

 Maggie Purcell

February 11, 2008

Introduction

Wine is enjoyed by many people across the world. From France, to California, and even Australia many different kinds of people enjoy different types of wine such as white wine, red wine, and sparkling wines such as champagne. Wine is often present at dinner parties and social outing among adult friends. A glass or two may help people loosen up and have a great time. The social aspects of drinking wine are undeniable. However, some people also claim that red wine not only is enjoyable, but it also successfully helps to improve cardiovascular health and reduce the chance of heart disease if it is drunk often enough. It seems red wine is very beneficial to your health in general, not just your cardiovascular health. However, red wine must be taken in moderation because it also seems that if taken in excess red wine would actually be detrimental to your health. I intended to determine if this all these claims are true, but if red wine really does help heart health in particular. I hope to help people determine if drinking red wine is beneficial and how much should be consumed so as to not cross the line into alcoholism and the negative effects that that have.
The Online Claims

            The online literature which sings the praises of drinking red wine daily is truly over whelming. There are sites after sites online which tell people that there are many different benefits of drinking red wine. These claims began from the idea of the “Mediterranean Diet” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1719675.stm). The “Mediterranean Diet” comes from research showing that people who live in the Mediterranean regions, and really in Europe in general seem to be in better general health than Americans. They are skinnier and live longer more vibrant lives theoretically because of their diets, which happen to include drinking red wine every night. This is not the case in America, seeing as have Americans are experiencing an obesity epidemic. This observation, that these people are in general better health sparked interest in their dietary habits, and thus started the research as to whether or not red wine is beneficial to one’s health. That specific website claims that even though people in that region eat larger amounts of fatty foods that the increased amount of wine they drink helps to counter act its negative effects. It says that the wine contains a chemical which blocks the absorption of the fat into arteries and therefore prevents most problems that occur with the heart.

            Another website makes more claims about the benefits of drinking red wine. The website also references the idea of red wine being beneficial to health comes from the fact that people in Europe drink more red wine and are generally in better health than the Americans who do not. It states that red wine prevents blood clots and helps with cholesterol: “Other studies also indicated that red wine can raise HDL cholesterol (the Good cholesterol) and prevent LDL cholesterol (the Bad cholesterol) from forming. Red wine may help prevent blood clots” (http://www.healthcastle.com/redwine-heart.shtml). The scientific reasoning that this website provides is that red wine contains antioxidants and in particular flavonoids and resveratrol. The Flavanoids prevent the blood clots while the resveratrol helps to lower the LDL cholesterol and raise the HDL cholesterol. The website does not go into any further detail as to who this works or the exact content of red wine.

            This website http://www.healthcastle.com/redwine-heart.shtml, is one of the first websites to say that it is not good for your health to just start drinking wine regularly just because you have discovered the health benefits of it. They do not suggest taking up drinking if you do not already drink, because that would be detrimental rather than beneficial. In other words, they advocate that alcohol is not for everyone and that there are other ways to intake flavonoids and resveratrol with other foods such as some fruits and vegetables. They also emphasize that if you do choose to intake alcohol that it should be in moderation, “one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. (A drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.)”. However, other than that the website does not go any further into the negative effects of drinking alcohol.

            Even the mayo clinic dedicates part of their website to discuss the benefits of red wine:   http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/red-wine/HB00089. The website reiterates the same benefits that the other websites stated: prevents blood clots, lowers blood pressure, reduces bad cholesterol or LDL cholesterol, and raises good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol. They however base this phenomenon on “The French Paradox” rather than the “Mediterranean diet”. They say that even though the French eat more saturated fats than Americans their rate of heart disease is much less, due to the wine that they drink daily. This website also identifies resveratrol as being the ingredient that makes red wine so beneficial. Reveratrol comes from the skin of the grapes, which are more prevalent in red wine than other alcoholic beverages, such as white wine or beer, which is why it is recommended to drink red wine rather than just alcohol in general. This website also states that a person should not start drinking alcohol just because of its benefits. However, they also list alcohols downfalls: “Drink in moderation or not at all… Alcohol can be addictive. Too much increases your risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, and certain types of cancer, accidents and other problems”.

Therefore, it seems as though there is an agreement online that red wine is beneficial to your heart in that it prevents blood clots, helps to properly regulate cholesterol, and generally helps cardiovascular health. Also, it should be noted that the websites listed are fairly credible organizations such as The Mayo Clinic and The American Heart Association has a website as well. The websites however, only lightly touched on the negative aspects of alcohol intake if mentioned at all. The real question now is whether or not there is scientific evidence and studies to back up the claims made by the above listed websites along with hundreds of others that can be found on the web proclaiming the benefits of drinking red wine regularly.

The Scientific Evidence
 

           First and foremost it should be noted that the scientific research on this topic is more than overwhelming and that it is extremely possible to find even more literature on the subject than the select papers and research that I will be referring to. The scientific research that has been done is in agreement with the online claims in that the research is done on the affects of red wine on cardiovascular disease, not just alcohol in general: “There are components of wine, particularly red wine, that do not exist in spirits, and are in low concentrations in beer and malt whiskey. These components are phenols: flavanoids, polyphenols, nonflavanoid phenols, and tannins” (de Lorimier, 2000). This helps to conclude that it is red wine that should be drunk nightly, not necessarily beer, mixed drinks, or even white wine. This is in accordance with the generic online websites. This website also verifies that it is the flavanoids in the wine which distinguish red wine from other drinks in the benefits of cardiovascular health. De Lorimier refers to these ingredients as antioxidants.

Flavanoids is the ingredient in red wine which has an effect on the body’s ability to absorb fat. “Natural flavonoids can donate hydrogen to and/or react with superoxide anions, hydroxyl radicals and lipid peroxyl radicals, all of which can cause lipid peroxidation in vitro, leading to LDL oxidation” (Shrikhande, 1999). In laymen’s terms, the flavanoids found in red wine help to prevent the body from absorbing fat which therefore reduces the amount of blockage in the arteries which decreases a person’s risk of coronary heart disease. Also, this study says that flavonoids helps to prevent the bad cholesterol, the LDL cholesterol, from increasing in the body; thus, verifying more of the claims which the online websites made.

Each website claimed that the “Mediterranean Diet” and the “French Paradox” requires one to two glasses of wine every night; however, no website said why that was necessary. It has been stated that the flavanoids are the ingredient in red wine which is beneficial to the body. German, suggests that wine must be consumed daily for flavanoids to remain in the body and be affective: “flavonoids were rapidly absorbed and excreted, suggesting that daily consumption would be necessary to sustain elevated plasma levels” (German, 2000). In other words, flavanoids do not stay in the body for an extended period of time, and therefore, must be consumed daily for them to be continually effective.

It is clear that the results to the scientific studies found online all yield the same results: “There are now more than 50 publications showing that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced incidence of myocardial infarction as well as coronary heart disease mortality by a factor of 20% to 50% less than abstainers or very light drinkers in both men and women” (de Lorimier, 2000). Though it seems though wine has lots of positive health effects the main one in undoubtedly that the antioxidants prevent arteries from absorbing fat, thus preventing blockage from occurring which is the main cause of coronary heart disease: “The strongest positive relationship for wine consumption and health is found in consistent reductions in atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease mortality in wine drinking populations” (German, 2000) and “This central finding suggests that regular consumption of grape phenols from red wine or wine by-products may result in the long term effect of reduced incidence of atherosclerosis” (Shrikhande, 1999). All in all it can definitely be argued that daily intake of red wine is beneficial to one’s health. Therefore, the abundant websites only which sing the praises of drinking red wine are generally accurate in the information they give and the reasons that they state for this claim. There is scientific research to back up what these websites are saying and therefore it is oaky to take advice from these websites and drink the red wine.


What Are The Risk Factors For Drinking Red Wine?


                                                           
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Though it seems clear that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol every day is something that will definitely be beneficial to cardiovascular health, it is also very important to note the negative effects that drinking alcohol can also have. “Most studies report J-shaped curves, whereby light to moderate drinkers have less risk than abstainers, and heavy drinkers are at the highest risk” (O’Keefe, Bybee, & Lavie, 2007). In other words, the recommended amount (1 glass a day for women and 2 glasses a day for men) is beneficial, but anything beyond that immediately starts to become more and more detrimental to your health the more and more you drink. An increase in alcohol intake can also increase the chance of stroke, heart attack, and increase other health risks: “Heavy alcohol consumption, however, can negatively affect neurologic, cardiac, gastrointestinal, hematologic, immune, psychiatric and musculoskeletal organ systems” (Standridge, Zylstra, & Adams, 2004). Also, as was stated on the Mayo Clinic website, alcohol is addictive, and when taken in excess can lead to substance abuse. Such abuse is often linked with psychological issues such as depression and other disorders. This is another reason as to why alcohol intake should be managed. Drinking more than one glass a night may possibly lead to alcoholism and more issues metal health wise rather than solutions to physical health problems.

But alcohol might still be an issue even if you are not an alcoholic drinking more than the recommended amount daily. Drinking in excess, or binge drinking, even on occasion may also have extreme impact on your health. “Studies indicate that even occasional immoderate drinking presents a health risk. Binge drinking increases risk of MI, all-cause mortality, and other adverse outcomes even among otherwise light drinkers” (O’Keefe, Bybee, & Lavie, 2007). So, it isn’t necessarily alcoholism which provides risks to your health, but any excessive intake of alcohol even if on a rare occasion is bad for your health, and can even provide long term damage to your body. It is vital that when making a choice to drink red wine for its health benefits that it is done so following the moderation guide lines because otherwise the good benefits will undoubtedly outweigh the bad consequences.

Also, it should be noted that the health benefits of alcohol intake would be counteracted if someone is prone to addiction, pregnant, or taking medication that would negatively counteract with the alcohol.
In Conclusion...
            In conclusion, it is a good idea to drink one to two glasses of red wine a night. Drinking red wine in moderation does in fact help you health in the sense that it prevents fat absorption thus leading to increased cardiovascular health as well as helping to improve levels of cholesterol in your body and preventing blood clots. However, increased daily intake of alcohol exceeding the recommended amount can lead to multiple different types of health problems, not just cardiovascular ones, including liver problems and neurological problems. So, if you are not currently a drinker of alcohol then you should not start drinking because of the possible risk of your ability to handle the addictive and negative aspects of drinking. But, if you do drink alcohol it is a good idea to drink one or two glasses, of red wine in particular, a night for better health, as long as you keep it in moderation; the key is definitely moderation. So drink up, but only in moderation!

http://tbn0.google.com/images?q=tbn:uIdQhbR-uT7kQM:http://customersrock.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/wine.jpg          http://tbn0.google.com/images?q=tbn:Wt1eXSFN56vDZM:http://www.isrealli.org/wp-content/uploads/wine.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

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References:

·         De Lorimier, A.A. (2000). Alcohol, Wine, and Health. Science Direct.

·         German, J.B. (2000). The Health Benefits of Wine. The Annual Nutrition Review.

·         O’Keefe, J.H., Bybee, K.A., & Lavie, C.J. (2007). Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health The Razor-Sharp Double-Edged Sword. Science Direct.

·         Shrikhande, A.J. (1999). Wine By-Products with Health Benefits. Science Direct.

·         Standridge, J.B., Zylstra, R.G., & Adams, S.M. (2004). Alcohol Consumption: An Overview of Benefits and Risks. Southern Medical Journal.