Psychology Department

Health Psychology Home Page

Papers written by students providing scientific reviews of topics related to health and well being

Search HomeWeight LossAlternative Therapy | Supplements | Eating Disorders | Fitness | Links | Self-Assessment | About this Page |

I’ll Have a Glass Of Red With That…Or Should I?

By Jamie Karoff





Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is a non discriminatory disease, as it kills men and women regardless of race and ethnicity. It is a silent killer, as many people do not know that the behaviors they are engaging in are slowly hurting their cardiovascular system. While heart disease is such a huge problem, there are ways to help try and prevent heart disease from occurring. The American Heart Association,  ( has identified that drinking red wine might be a way to help fight heart disease. There have been many recent studies conducted that deal with drinking red wine and its effects on heart disease and the benefits that may stem from drinking red wine. It is now being implicated as being able to help decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.




It has said been all over the media by various sources that drinking red wine will improve your health, specifically help fight against heart disease. According to the BBC, “numerous studies have suggested that moderate alcohol drinking helps to reduce the likelihood of heart disease. The so-called "Mediterranean diet", which includes a larger intake of wine, has been credited with lower rates of heart disease in those countries, despite a higher intake of saturated fats,” ( This led to more people buying red wine so that they could have the same heart benefits as those from the Mediterranean.

According to research, moderate to low intake of red wine, which is one glass a day for women and two glasses a day for men, is supposed to help lower the risk of heart disease, as well as raise the good (HDL) cholesterol, while helping to lower bad (LDL) levels of cholesterol. ( It was also found that drinking red wine may help to prevent future heart attacks for those who have already suffered from a heart attack. Also within this research, it was suggested that red wine may also prevent blot clots and reduce blood vessel damage due to fat deposits. (

It may not only be the alcohol itself that provides benefits to those with heart disease. Red wine contains other particles that help to protect against heart disease, which has to do with the way wine is made. Therefore, these components have not been found in other alcoholic beverages. ( Red wine is a particularly rich source of antioxidants, called flavonoid phenolics.  Many studies have looked for a cause of red wine's effects and have found that it is due to phenolic constituents, particularly resveratrol and the flavonoids. Resveratrol, found in grape skins and seeds, increases HDL cholesterol and prevent blood clotting. Flavonoids, on the other hand, exhibit antioxidant properties helping prevent blood clots and plaques formation in arteries. ( Red wine is made using the skin of red grapes, which other wines and alcoholic beverages do not do, which is why there is lots of attention focused on red wine. These benefits from the skin of grapes used in the making of wine are different than just eating a lot of grapes. It is the ethanol found in alcohol that may help to increase the heart benefits and may actually aid the antioxidants in its beneficial role. (


While these claims all sound very good and like they are a great way to stop heart disease, there are some important drawbacks that need to be addressed. It is essential that in order to see the benefits of red wine that drinking it must be done in moderation. Health officials warn that these benefits gained from drinking red wine can turn detrimental if too much wine is consumed. (

Studies have shown that drinking alcohol may increase triglycerides (a bad lipid found in blood) and result in weight gain due to the calories in wine. This is such a problem due to the obesity crisis in the United States. . Other studies also suggested that alcohol consumption is associated with cancer risk. The American Heart Association warns against starting to drink wine or any alcoholic beverage if they do not currently drink. If they do drink, the AHA stresses the importance of drinking in moderation. (

Alcoholism is also a serious consequence that needs to be considered when looking at drawbacks to drinking wine. Drinking at a moderate level is ok, but taking that to extreme and going overboard with alcohol intake can have some very serious consequences. For a prolonged period of time, it can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis. High alcohol consumption is said to increase the risk of several types of cancer, cause depression, and may strain personal relationships. These are risks that need to be considered when decided to drink and how much to consume.

Since alcohol in general leads to an increased caloric intake, the American Heart Association cautions against drinking, as it can lead to increased obesity. The AHA recommends increasing physical activity, such as walking an extra 30 minutes a day, eating fewer high fat foods, as well as giving up smoking as ways to help improve cardiovascular health. ( Therefore the best way to reap benefits from drinking red wine is to do so in moderation.




The research that has been done on the effects of red wine and heart disease only helps to understand how this drink may have potential health benefits. Many of the studies show that a moderate intake of red wine will have a have a beneficial effect on reducing cardiovascular disease. While the exact nature of the components found in red wine and what their effect is on heart disease is still rather unknown, recent studies have shown a decrease in bad (LDL) cholesterol, an increase in good (HDL) cholesterol and decreased risk of heart disease can associated back to this drink.

In a review of 51 epidemiological studies, it was shown that the risk of heart disease was diminished by 20% when 1-2 glasses of red wine were drank by a healthy person. The people who benefited from the drinks were healthy people, those with diabetes and those who have had a history of heart attacks. The components found in wine, such as antioxidants and flavenoids, were reported to help decrease the risk (Wollin, 2001). In a follow-up study, 38,077 included male health professionals who had no history of heart disease were found to have decreased the risk of having a heart attack by a little over 30%, after having 1 to 2 glasses of wine, a few days a week (Szmitko, 2001). While these types of studies show the benefits of what red wine can do to reduce the risk of heart disease, there are some problems that are associated with these studies.

In another study conduction by the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale in France, 46 men between ages 35 and 65 participated in a study. Their dietary patterns, including alcohol intake, were examined by a dietician who helped participants recall what food they had eaten over the previous three days. The men also completed an extensive questionnaire on their drinking habits. They were categorized into three groups on the basis of their self-reported alcohol consumption: light drinkers, regular drinkers (who drank less than 35 grams of alcohol each day), and heavy drinkers (who drank 35 to 60 grams of alcohol each day) ( Participants had their blood drawn after fasting over night to see levels of HDL cholesterol and other things relating to heart disease. The study showed that the increase in HDL levels found in regular drinkers was associated with an enrichment of HDL cholesterol in the blood, which may be beneficial against cardiovascular diseases. (

The Copenhagen City Heart Study did another study in which 13,285 men and women were observed for 12 years. The results from this study suggested that patients who drank wine had half the risk of dying from coronary heart disease or stroke as those who never drank wine. Those who drank beer, spirits or hard alcohol did not lower their risk. The benefit of red wine is shown to be effective by an analysis of 13 studies involving 209,418 participants. This analysis showed a 32% risk reduction of atherosclerotic disease with red wine intake, which was greater than the 22% risk reduction for beer consumption. While this study showed beneficial results of red wine on heart disease, other studies and reviews have failed to show a beneficial effect for red wine. Therefore it could be concluded that other lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, socioeconomic status, or pattern of alcohol consumption may have played a role in giving wine drinkers an advantage in lowered rates of heart disease. (Szmitko, 2005).

In an effort aided by the World Health Organization, scientists in Europe compiled data taken from 37 European populations. These scientists studied 7 million men and women (35 to 64 years of age) from these populations over a period of 10 years. They studied the effect of polyphenols, which are present in grape skins and seeds, on coronary heart disease. It was found that in the south of France that coronary heart disease rates were the lowest of all populations studied; here they drank more red wine and less spirits than in other populations. While drinking more red wine, they did so in moderation (1-2 glasses a day) which helped to lower their risk for coronary heart disease. This study also found that the properties of polyphenols help to reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis. Red wine’s “polyphenolic aid” inhibits oxidation of human LDL (bad) cholesterol through several different mechanisms, including “scavenging reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, chelating transition metal ions, sparing LDL’s associated antioxidants, and increasing or preserving serum paraoxonase activity” (Cordova, 2004). LDL levels of red wine drinkers went down on average 18%.  Red wine has also been shown to increase HDLs (good) cholesterol. It was found in the study that the HDL levels of the red wine drinkers went up on average 12%. In places where more red wine was drunk, the population already have lowered levels of LDL cholesterol and higher levels of HDL cholesterol (Cordova, 2004).


Looking at the research and all the media attention that red wine receives, it would seem as though drinking red wine would be beneficial to reducing risks of cardiovascular disease. While drinking red wine in moderation may have protective effects on the heart, other factors, such as exercise, non smoking and low fat diets, may also play a large role. Therefore, the way the information in presented to people is slightly misleading. It is not only drinking red wine that will lead to positive heart health changes, but the effect of that combined with a healthy lifestyle. More research needs to be done on the benefits on red wine before health professionals can conclusively say anything about the effects red wine and its components have on heart disease.






Alcohol, Wine, and Cardiovascular Disease. Retrieved September 17, 2005 from American Heart Association web site:

Allen, Ira R. Researchers Link Red Wine to Cholesterol. Retrieved September 17, 2006 from Wine News Web site:

Cordova, Alfred C. et all. (2004). The cardiovascular protective effect of red wine. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 200, 428-439.

Smitzko, Paul, E (2005). Red Wine and Your Heart. Circulation., 111,e10-e11

Tsang, Gloria (n.d). Red Wine- Heart Health Benefits?. Retrieved September 17, 2006 from web site:

Why Red Wine is Healthier. Retrieved September 17, 2006 from BBC News web site:

Wollin. S (2001). Alcohol, Red Wine, and Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of Nutrition, 131, 1401-1404




Psychology Department

The Health Psychology Home Page is produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.

Vanderbilt Homepage | Introduction to Vanderbilt | Admissions | Colleges & Schools | Research Centers | News & Media Information | People at Vanderbilt | Libraries |Vanderbilt Register | Medical Center 

  Return to the Health Psychology Home Page
  Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt