Wine, when used in moderation, in particular the red varieties, can help lower cholesterol and fight hardening of the arteries and heart disease. Also, studies suggest that it can kill the bacteria that cause food poisoning and traveller’s diarrhea. Evidence suggests that moderate drinking can be a helpful addition to a healthy diet. Researchers are still investigating the so-called French paradox, but it appears likely that the French have healthier hearts at least partly because of their love for red wines. Theses wines are rich in compounds that help lower cholesterol and prevent harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from sticking to the lining of artery walls - the process that leads to heart disease. Red wines also help blood platelets from sticking together and forming dangerous clots.
Heart Protection The ways in which red wine protect your heart are complex. There is more than one chemical compound at work and some of these compounds have more than one benefit, according to research. The alcohol in red wine may be beneficial. People who drink small amounts of alcohol seem to have increased protection from heart disease. The reason, according to research, is that ethanol, or alcohol, in spirited drinks raises levels of good, heart-protecting high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. But if raising HDL cholesterol were the only benefit, drinking red wine wouldn’t be any more effective than, for example, drinking some scotch or a glass of beer. And while beer and other alcoholic drinks have some benefits, wine is the only one with health-promoting polyphenols.
The reason why wine seems to offer superior protection is that it contains powerful flavonoids such as quercetin. Together with other potentially protective compounds like resveratrol, it apparently helps prevent the body’s dangerous LDL cholesterol from oxidizing. This in turn, makes bad LDL cholesterol less likely to stick to artery walls. In lab studies, resveratrol has been shown to slow aging in mice, protect against weight gain and boost endurance. How does this work? Resveratrol seems to improve the functioning of mitochondria – these are tiny power plants inside every cell in your body. Flavonoids in red wine are more powerful than vitamin E, which everyone knows is an important antioxidant, according to John D. Folts. PhD. Professor of medicine and director of the coronary thrombosis laboratory at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison.
Keeping LDL cholesterol under control is a good start against heart disease. But that’s not all. The quercetin in wine also helps prevent platelets in blood from sticking together. Indeed, a study led by Dr. Folts found that when red wine was given to laboratory animals, it eliminated potentially dangerous clots, which can cause heart attacks and stroke. “Red wine performs double duty, giving you two major benefits in one place”, says Dr. Folts.
Colour makes the difference When researchers talk about the healing power of wine, they referring to red wine. When it concerns heart health, light wines pale in comparison with their robust red brethren. In a laboratory study at the University of California, researchers found that red wines could prevent from 46 to 100% of LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, while white wines where not as protective. Also, white wine lacks the clot-blocking ability of red wines, says Dr. Folts. Why is red wine so much superior to its paler counterparts? It’s all in the making, According to experts. When vintners make wine they throw everything in the vat – not just grapes but also the skins, seeds and stems. They’re all mashed up to create a chunky mixture called must. That’s where the healthy flavonoids come from. “The longer the must ferments in the alcohol, the more of these compounds release into the wine, says Dr. Folts. With white wine, the must is taken out early so that the wine never darkens. With red wine, the must is kept in a long time, and the wine pick up a lot of flavonoids.” UC Davis researchers have found that some red wines are also rich in saponins, which lower heart disease risk by binding to cholesterol and preventing their absorption. Saponins may also cool body wide inflammation, which could also lower heart disease and cancer risk. Researcher Andrew Waterhouse, PhD, professor of enology (wine chemistry) at UC Davis found that red wines contain 3 to 10 times more saponins than whites. The richest source was red Zinfandel, followed by Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The saponins may come from the waxy grape skins and seem to dissolve into the wine during fermentation. Wines with the highest alcohol content also had the most saponins. In moderation, wine may help you to maintain a healthy weight. When researchers at the Mayo Clinic tracked drinking behavior and weight in 8,200 women and men, they found that those who enjoyed one or two alcoholic beverages a day were 54% less likely to be obese than teetotalers. Non-drinkers and ex-drinkers were twice as likely to be obese. Those who swallowed four or more drinks per day were about 50% more likely to be obese than non-drinkers.
The Grapes of Wrath For some people with a tendency toward migraine headaches, even a little wine can cause a lot of headache. Red wine contains substances called amines, which cause blood vessels in the brain to constrict and then expand. In sensitive people, this can result in eye-popping headaches. Although white wine contains fewer headache-producing amines than the red varieties, it doesn’t contain as many healing compounds either. So, if headaches are a problem for you, you may want to ask your doctor if a non-alcoholic wine will allow you to enjoy the great tastes without the pain.
Know when to stop The most important tip for getting the maximum health benefits from your wine cellar is knowing when to put your glass down, say the experts. The daily limit is one 5-ouce glass for women and two 5-ounce glasses for men per day. However, experts agree that if you’re at risk for over-indulging – or if you have a personal or family history of alcoholism – you’re better off skipping alcohol entirely.
Go for the gusto When you’re scanning the shelves with the highest levels of heart-healthy compounds, go for the full-bodied, robust varieties, advises DR. Waterhouse. “There is a close relationship between the level of tannin, the substance that makes wine dry, and the level of healing compounds in red wines,” says Dr. Waterhouse. Three of the most heart-healthy wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot.