Red wine has long been touted for its potential health benefits, which include improved cholesterol levels, improved blood sugar regulation, and protection against certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases. But while red wine does indeed contain beneficial polyphenols that are thought to be the drivers of these benefits, does their health efficacy really outweigh the multiple health negatives associated with alcohol consumption, in any daily quantity? In this guide, we explore the age old question: "Is red wine good for you," to help you weigh the facts from fiction.
What’s in red wine?
The color of red wine not only reflects its rich flavor profile, but also reveals the secret behind the potential health benefits: grape skin. By fermenting along with grape skin, red wine retains the phytonutrients found in it, which include beneficial polyphenols such as quercetin, catechins, anthocyanidins, and by far one of the more reputable wine polyphenols — resveratrol. Grape skin is why red wine is nutritionally superior to white and rosé wines, which are minimally (if at all) processed with it.
While polyphenols are recognized for their role in many of the potential benefits of red wine, they only make up 0.1% of the composition of red wine. Red wine also contains water (86%); ethanol — i.e., alcohol (12%); glycerol, higher alcohol, and polysaccharides (equivalent to 1% in total); organic acids (0.4%); and other compounds (0.5%). Again, polyphenols account for only 0.1% of the composition of red wine, whereas alcohol (ethanol) makes up 12%. Thus, any potential benefit derived from red wine polyphenols is trivial; it would require large amounts of red wine consumption to achieve substantial health benefits.
Is red wine bad for you? The cons of red wine consumption
Drinking red wine with the intention of benefiting your health is a slippery slope. The dangers of alcohol use likely outweigh any potential benefits of red wine consumption. In fact, findings from recent studies confirm that alcohol use poses a great threat to your health by damaging the brain, increasing the risk of cancer, interfering with medication schedules, and opening the doors to uncontrolled alcohol consumption.
Alcohol damages the brain
Alcohol use is not only problematic when done in excess. Even small amounts of alcohol can be damaging to the brain, according to data provided by the UK Biobank. This 2022 study analyzed brain imaging data from a sample of 36,678 middle-aged or older European adults and compared the scans to their drinking habits (ranging from one or two alcoholic drinks per day to more than four alcoholic drinks per day) to assess significant associations. The data showed "negative relationships between alcohol intake and global gray and white matter measures." The heavier the drinker, the more detrimental the effect on brain gray and white matter volumes.
Special note on how the brain works: Brain gray matter refers to brain and spinal cord tissues that play an important role in mental functions including informational and sensory processing (thinking, reasoning, remembering, and perceiving) and development (learning, speaking, and recognizing). Brain white matter refers to brain and spinal cord tissues that help transmit information from the brain to the most distant parts of the body. Loss of brain gray matter volume is associated with cognitive decline (including memory loss and issues with thinking, reasoning, and decision-making) and increases the risk or speeds up the process of neurodegenerative disease (such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson’s). While loss of brain gray matter happens with age, alcohol consumption can speed the loss of brain gray matter volume over time.
The 2022 study’s revealing of a negative relationship between alcohol intake and brain health aligns with the findings of many other earlier studies on the negative effects of excessive alcohol use (especially in middle-aged and older adults). However, something interesting that the newer study contributes to the larger alcohol use discussion is the finding that even consuming one alcoholic drink per day could impact brain gray and white matter volumes. In other words, what is considered "mild" or "moderate" drinking by various health organizations can still negatively affect the brain. Based on such newer research, in January 2023 the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) issued new guidelines — stating that any more than two standard drinks per week, each the equivalent of a 12-ounce (341ml; 0.6 pints) serving of 5% alcohol beer or a five-ounce (142ml; 0.26 pints) glass of 12% alcohol wine, brings an increase in negative outcomes, including breast and colon cancer. In other words, “any amount of alcohol is not good for your health," said Erin Hobin, a senior scientist with Public Health Ontario and a member of the expert panel that developed the guidelines. The new report, funded by Health Canada, also suggested mandatory warning labels for all alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol use is linked to cancer
An often understated risk of alcohol consumption is its potential to cause various types of cancer. According to the Fifteenth Edition of the Report on Carcinogens, provided by the National Toxicology Program, alcoholic beverages are a known carcinogen (a substance or agent that causes cancer in living tissues and cells). This report specifically links the consumption of alcoholic beverages to cancer in the "mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), and esophagus." Other areas of the body where cancer can develop as a result of drinking alcohol include:
- Colon and rectum
The same report by the National Toxicology Program established that the greater the level of alcohol consumption, the greater the risk of cancer. However, even those who are considered “mild drinkers” (no more than one drink per day) have an increased risk of cancer. There are a few theories on how alcohol consumption may induce cancer in the body. First, metabolized ethanol produces a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde, which is a carcinogen and can damage DNA. Alcohol can also increase the amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body, which can incur oxidative stress and oxidative damage to tissues and cells. Using tobacco along with alcohol consumption can also increase cancer risk. Lastly, alcohol use may prevent the body from properly absorbing vitamins and nutrients that may protect against cancer.
Interactions with medication
Another con of red wine consumption — or alcohol consumption, in general — is that alcohol can interfere with medication schedules necessary to manage existing health conditions. You should never mix these medications with alcohol:
- Anxiety and/or depression medications
- Sleep medications, including zolpidem (Ambien)
- Arthritis medications
- Pain medications
- ADHD medications
- Diabetes medications
- Blood pressure medications
- Blood clot medications
- Cholesterol medications
The potential side effects of drinking while on any of these medications can range from mild discomforts (such as itching, flushing of the skin, or tummy problems) to more serious side effects (including arrhythmia, internal bleeding, cognitive dysfunction, or liver damage). If you are taking any medication, consult your doctor or a healthcare professional before reaching for a glass of red wine.
Drinking, especially in social settings, can quickly turn into excess consumption if you are not mindful — rendering void any potential benefits of red wine. Long-term and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to:
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Digestive problems
- Cancer (liver, colon, throat, etc.)
- Alcoholism or alcohol dependency/addiction
- Poor mental health
- Family problems
- Job-related problems or unemployment
Increased caloric intake
Excess alcohol consumption can also greatly increase your caloric intake. One serving size of red wine (five ounces) contains about 125 calories. One serving size of beer (12 ounces) contains about 153 calories. The calories from drinking more than one or two drinks in one session can quickly add up. For example, the calories in two glasses of red wine — about 250 calories — represent about 40-50% of the calories in a typical meal, which ranges from 533 to 800 calories for women and 667 to 1000 calories for men (based on the average man and woman with a standard three-meal day). These extra calories must be accounted for and factored into your diet if you are carefully monitoring your caloric intake for weight loss efforts or to manage blood sugar levels. Otherwise, excessive consumption of alcohol could contribute to weight gain, hinder weight loss efforts, and complicate the management of many health conditions.
Is red wine good for you? The potential pros
Resveratrol improves blood sugar regulation
Some dietary polyphenols may help prevent or better manage diabetic conditions by regulating glucose homeostasis — a steady state of glucose concentration in the bloodstream, and by improving insulin sensitivity — how effectively the body uses insulin for blood sugar regulation. Resveratrol, a well-known polyphenol found in red wine, is one of these impactful dietary plant compounds that offer anti-diabetic effects.
One recent study exploring the role of resveratrol on glycemic control, in patients with diabetes, found that resveratrol (at a dosage of 200 mg daily over 24 weeks) significantly reduced fasting glucose and fasting insulin levels for the resveratrol intervention group compared to the control group (which received no dosage of resveratrol). The average fasting glucose level and the average fasting insulin level for the group with resveratrol intervention were 7.37 mmol/L and 16.14 mIU/L, respectively. The average fasting glucose level and the average fasting insulin level for the control group without resveratrol treatment were 7.65 mmol/L and 16.43 mIU/L, respectively. In both cases, resveratrol helped to lower these markers of diabetic condition and ultimately helped regulate glucose homeostasis.
Resveratrol has also been widely studied for its role in insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity. In a recent, randomized, controlled trial on the effect of resveratrol on insulin metabolism and insulin resistance in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes, the study found that resveratrol greatly improved insulin tolerance and insulin metabolism in study participants over the course of six months. Specifically, the results recorded a lower percentage of HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin or hemoglobin A1c), the average level of blood sugar, for the resveratrol group (about 7%) compared to the placebo group (about 9%) at month six of the study; as well as a greater metabolic clearance rate (MCR) for the resveratrol group compared to the placebo group at month six.
Resveratrol lowers cholesterol levels
Many studies have looked at the potential benefits of resveratrol on blood lipid levels, which include cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A recent meta-analysis of published studies conducted between 2010 to 2019 found that taking resveratrol could significantly lower total cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (LDL-C). The average reduction for these blood lipid markers across the various published studies was as follows:
- Total cholesterol: -10.28%
- Triglycerides: -8.56%
- LDL-C: -5.69%
The meta-analysis found that resveratrol dosages had a strong impact on LDL-C levels, and a greater dosage intervention resulted in a greater reduction in LDL-C levels. It also found that resveratrol treatment trials lasting at least 12 months saw the greatest reduction in LDL-C levels. Thus, long-term resveratrol usage could have a positive impact on blood lipid profiles. Interestingly enough, however, this same meta-analysis did not find a beneficial impact of resveratrol on the “good kind of cholesterol,” high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), despite other studies finding the opposite.
Resveratrol protects against cardiovascular disease
Aside from improvements in cholesterol and triglyceride levels, resveratrol also offers additional cardioprotective effects by reducing arterial stiffness and reducing high blood pressure, which are common symptoms in patients with heart disease.
The catch with the relationship between resveratrol and high blood pressure is that high dosages of resveratrol are needed to effect significant changes in blood pressure levels — specifically, in systolic blood pressure. By taking 150 mg of resveratrol or more, subject participants experienced an average reduced systolic blood pressure of -11.90 mmHg. Unfortunately, this study did not find a significant impact of resveratrol on diastolic blood pressure levels.
Resveratrol has also been found to reduce arterial stiffness in patients with type 2 diabetes; stiffness in artery walls is a symptom that can elevate the risk of cardiovascular conditions (including heart attack, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and stroke). However, much like for blood pressure, a large amount of resveratrol (100 mg daily) was needed to effect change in arterial stiffness.
Getting beneficial polyphenols elsewhere
Many of the benefits of red wine consumption are due to the phenolic compounds found in red wine — specifically, resveratrol, which has associations with improved blood sugar management, improved cholesterol, and modest protection against cardiovascular disease. But red wine may not be the best source for resveratrol, as it contains only about 1.5 mg of resveratrol per liter, or per 50 ounces of wine. Thus, a standard drink of red wine (five ounces) would contain only about 0.15 mg of resveratrol. To enjoy the cardioprotective benefits of resveratrol, try sourcing the polyphenol elsewhere — especially since the risks of the alcohol component of red wine may outweigh any potential benefits that resveratrol may offer.
Red grapes and red grape juice are great non-alcoholic alternatives that still confer resveratrol benefits, without the alcoholic risk. Other foods that contain resveratrol include peanuts, blueberries, cranberries, lingonberries, pistachios, cocoa, and dark chocolate.
Other beneficial polyphenols
Fortunately, health benefits similar to what resveratrol confers are available from many other polyphenols. Some of the typical health benefits of many polyphenols include:
- Blood sugar management
- Improved heart health
- Gastrointestinal health support
- Brain and mental function support
- Protection against cancer
Fruits and vegetables are not only the richest source of most of the healthiest polyphenols, but they are also key sources of prebiotic fibers and important vitamins and minerals. Read more about specific polyphenols and the foods that contain them in Polyphenols 101: Your ultimate guide.
Eden’s 3-in-1: a superior synbiotic
Food, of course, can be your primary source of polyphenols. However, if adhering to a healthy, balanced diet proves a challenge, consuming a dietary supplement that contains them, together with other important metabolic and cardio-protective ingredients, may make good sense for you; ask your healthcare professional. In addition to a synbiotic blend of key prebiotics and probiotics, Eden's 3-in-1 Supplement contains carefully selected polyphenols sourced from green and gold kiwis, lychee and green tea, and turmeric. Here's why each polyphenol ingredient was selected:
3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend
Green and gold kiwifruit
Green and gold kiwifruit have unique cardioprotective properties. One kiwifruit contains 3-5% of the daily recommended value of potassium, which helps lower blood pressure and preserve the health of your arteries (to keep your blood flowing freely throughout the body). The polyphenols in kiwis have also been shown to reduce, by 15%, platelet aggregation, a symptom that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Lastly, the polyphenols found in green and gold kiwifruit have been shown to improve blood lipids, reducing total cholesterol and triglycerides levels and improving HDL-C levels. Read more on the benefits of green and gold kiwifruit.
Lychee and green tea
Eden's contains a polyphenol extract, Olignol, that combines both lychee and green tea extracts. Studies have shown that Olignol helps support blood sugar regulation by restoring insulin sensitivity and modulating glucose uptake and production. Furthermore, Olignol has demonstrated an association with reduced abdominal circumference and visceral fat percentage (by as much as 7-15%), benefiting metabolic health. Polyphenols from green tea (such as epicatechin gallate, or EGCG) are also known to support weight loss and weight management efforts. Many studies, such as this 12-week study, have observed a significant impact on weight loss with green tea extract treatment. Learn more about the benefits of lychee and green tea.
Eden's 3-in-1 supplement also contains a polyphenol extracted from turmeric, the spice. Studies have found that curcumin, the main polyphenol in turmeric, is one of the most effective natural anti-inflammatory agents. Curcumin's ability to inhibit inflammatory responses in the body, as well as reduce oxidative stress, contributes to its role in alleviating arthritis pain and protecting against diseases stemming from chronic inflammation (including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and metabolic syndrome). Curcumin also has significant anti-microbial properties. Learn more about the benefits of turmeric and curcumin.
Is red wine good for you? While research from older studies proposed that moderate drinking of red wine could benefit your health, this stance is now challenged by findings from recent studies linking alcohol use (of any amount) to brain damage and higher risk of cancer. Furthermore, the early research suggesting that alcohol may have modest benefits to cardiovascular health pointed to only faint correlations between alcohol consumption and reduced risk of cardiovascular conditions, when in reality proving that alcohol use benefits cardiovascular health is proving elusive. Granted, the phenolic compounds found in red wine — especially resveratrol — may benefit blood sugar management, blood lipid profiles, and cardiovascular health. However, the benefits of resveratrol from red wine consumption are smidgen; polyphenols only account for 0.1% of the total composition of red wine. Fortunately, you can also enjoy health benefits similar to what the resveratrol in red wine provides by consuming more polyphenols in general, such as found abundantly in fruits and vegetables. High-quality polyphenol extracts are also available in dietary supplements, including Eden’s 3-in-1 Synbiotic Supplement. Together, the three ingredient groups in this supplement support gut, heart, immune, and cognitive health.
If you do partake in alcohol consumption of any kind, including red wine, try to limit your drinking to one standard drink or less. View this chart provided by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to learn what counts as a standard drink for different alcoholic beverages.