Red wine contains powerful antioxidants, and many sources claim that drinking it has health benefits. What does the research say?
Researchers have studied wine — especially red wine — extensively for its possible health benefits.
This article looks at the evidence behind the benefits of red wine, along with health warnings, and discusses whether people should drink it.
Red wine has been part of social, religious, and cultural events for hundreds of years. Medieval monasteries believed that their monks lived longer partly because of their regular, moderate drinking of wine.
In recent years, science has indicated that there could be truth in these claims.
According to a 2018 study, although notably there are no official recommendations around these benefits, drinking red wine in moderation has positive links with:
Red wine may get its health benefits from its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and lipid-regulating effects.
Red wine — made from crushed dark grapes — is a relatively rich source of resveratrol, a natural antioxidant in the skin of grapes.
Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress has clear links with many diseases, including cancers and heart disease.
There are many healthful, antioxidant-rich foods, including fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
Whole grapes and berries are better sources of resveratrol than red wine, and because of the health risks linked with drinking alcohol, getting antioxidants from foods is likely to be more healthful than drinking wine.
People may need to drink a lot of red wine to get enough resveratrol to have an effect, which could do more harm than good.
That said, when choosing between alcoholic beverages, red wine may be more healthful than some others.
The following sections take a closer look at the possible health benefits of red wine.
Many studies through the years have shown a positive link between moderate red wine drinking and good heart health.
The authors concluded that red wine might have cardioprotective effects.
However, the American Heart Association (AHA) say that such studies do not show cause-and-effect relationships. Other factors may play a role. For example, people who drink red wine in moderation may also follow a more healthful lifestyle or a Mediterranean diet.
They also point out that excess alcohol can directly harm the heart. To stay safe, people should stay within official CDC guidelines from the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), which define moderate drinking as:
- 1 glass of wine per day for females
- 2 glasses of wine for males
One glass of wine is 5 ounces (oz) of 12% alcohol by volume.
In 2016, researchers suggested red wine could reduce the risk of heart disease through its effects on the gut microbiome.
However, the research is limited, and doctors need more evidence before understanding the true effects of red wine on gut health.
The scientists believe that the ethanol in wine plays a crucial role in metabolizing glucose and that the nonalcoholic ingredients may also contribute. They call for more research to confirm the findings.
Anyone with diabetes should check with their doctor before drinking alcohol.
In 2006, scientists reported that red wine compounds called procyanidins help keep the blood vessels healthy.
Many people find an alcoholic drink relaxes them, but results published in 2012 indicate that nonalcoholic red wine, too, can reduce blood pressure. This could be a more healthful option.
It is important, however, to note that drinking too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure and arrhythmia, or an irregular heart rhythm.
A 2015 review reports that resveratrol may help protect against secondary brain damage after a stroke or central nervous system injury. This is due to its positive effects on inflammation, oxidative stress, and cell death.
However, these studies show the effects of resveratrol rather than red wine itself.
Resveratrol may also help prevent vision loss by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, according to 2016 research.
Many forms of age-related eye conditions that cause vision loss involve these factors, including:
Some research says that drinking red wine in moderation could reduce the risk of certain cancers.
However, the National Cancer Institute say there is strong evidence that drinking alcohol can cause certain cancers, especially drinking heavily over time.
This is partly because it creates toxins in the body, damages body tissues, and creates oxidation. This means that the potential adverse effects of alcohol may outweigh any benefit from resveratrol.
The National Cancer Institute links alcohol use with a range of cancers, including mouth, throat, liver, breast, and colon cancer.
For most people, enjoying red wine in moderation is safe, but it is important to keep in mind that drinking alcohol in excess is harmful.
Some studies, however, link moderate red wine intake with reduced risk or better outcomes in cancer. The following sections look at specific studies into red wine and particular types of cancer.
Alcohol increases estrogen in the body, a chemical that encourages the growth of cancer cells.
However, a 2012 study says that the aromatase inhibitors (AIs) in red wine — and to a lesser extent, white wine — may reduce estrogen levels and increase testosterone in females approaching menopause.
The researchers say that this may be why red wine is less associated with increased breast cancer risk than other types of alcohol.
A 2017 review reports that resveratrol has protective effects against cancer in both human and laboratory studies. The mechanisms include preventing cell proliferation and tumor growth, inducing cell death in cancer cells, and inhibiting metastasis.
However, again, these effects are for resveratrol rather than red wine itself.
A study from 2019 reports that males who drank alcohol had a slightly lower risk of lethal prostate cancer, and that red wine had links with a lower risk of progression to lethal disease.
The authors say that these results mean moderate alcohol consumption is safe for people with prostate cancer.
According to a 2018 report, researchers have found an increased risk of dementia in people who abstained from drinking wine.
The authors say that this may be because of the neuroprotective effects of polyphenols and other compounds in wine that can reduce inflammation and alter the lipid profile in the body.
A 2013 study on 5,505 people over 7 years showed that those who drank between 2–7 glasses of wine each week had lower levels of depression.
They also reported that people who drank heavily were more at risk for depression.
Alcohol is a common cause of liver disease. However, a moderate intake of red wine has links with good liver health in some contexts.
According to a 2018 study, modest alcohol intake — particularly wine — is linked with lower liver fibrosis in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
That said, the impact of red wine on liver health is complicated. Although it provides antioxidants and reduces oxidative stress, drinking can also increase uric acid and triglycerides, which damages the liver.
Researchers need to complete more studies to work out the complex effects of moderate red wine intake on liver health.
That said, people who currently have liver disease should avoid alcohol altogether.
Drinking red wine in moderation may reduce the risk of some chronic disease, as discussed above, so it follows that it may help people to live longer.
Indeed, one popularized 2000 study reported that “Men aged 45–64 at entry drinking about 5 drinks per day have a longer life expectancy than occasional and heavy drinkers.”
However, this is likely due to confounding factors, such as diet, as discussed in a 2018 review. For instance, red wine is a common addition to the Mediterranean diet, an eating pattern that has established links with good health and long life.
Resveratrol appears to underlie many of the health benefits of red wine.
Red wine contains more resveratrol than white wine as it is fermented with the skins, while white wine is not. Most of the resveratrol in grapes is in the seeds and skin.
Nonalcoholic red wines may also include resveratrol.
Wine consumption may have some health benefits, but drinking too much of any type of alcohol can increase health risks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide guidance on the health risks of drinking too much alcohol.
They report that excessive alcohol use led to around 88,000 deaths in the United States between 2006–2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.
Further, they state that 1 in 10 deaths among adults aged 20–64 years were related to excessive drinking.
The risks of excessive alcohol use include:
- heart problems
- fatty liver disease
- liver damage
- mental health conditions
- certain cancers
For most people, enjoying a glass or two of red wine each day can be part of a healthful diet.
The key is moderation. Regardless of the possible health benefits, drinking excess alcohol can do more harm than good.
Despite any possible benefits, official U.S. guidelines do not recommend that people start drinking or drink more for any reason.
Is moderate drinking good for you? Read more here.
Ultimately, many of the benefits linked to red wine are due to the beneficial properties of resveratrol. Eating grapes and berries may, therefore, be a more healthful option.
Drinking red wine in moderation may have certain health benefits, including boosting heart, gut, and brain health. This is because it contains compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and lipid-improving effects.
Drinking alcohol is not safe for everyone, and drinking more than a moderate amount can cause serious health problems.