Red Wine Good for Your Health
~ January 1999 No.65 ~
During the holiday season the number of parties goes up. There is always the temptation to eat and drink too much. No one can be blamed for that. Research on wine has made it easier to justify a few glasses of the fermented grape, but it is important that it is red wine you drink.
The whole story linking red wine and health began in the early nineties when epidemiologists noted that the French had an unexplained low incidence of cardiac deaths. This was particularly puzzling when the diet of the typical Frenchman was examined. The French love to eat, and their diet was rich in fats which should have put them at greater risk than people in near by countries. Other risk factors such as the levels of smoking, exercise, stress all could not be used to explain the low cardiac death rate. This puzzling observation became known as the "French Paradox." With the diet that they were eating the French should have a higher incidence of heart problems, not lower.
Researchers went back to look at the diet in more detail. One thing that stood out was that the average Frenchman consumes 60 litres of wine a year, the bulk of it red wine. In comparison, the average North American drinks about 15 litres of wine a year. It was suggested that there may be something in red wine that is protecting the French.
Since that time, various controlled studies have shown that red wine - when CONSUMED IN MODERATION - increases blood HDL, or good cholesterol, decreases LDL, or bad cholesterol, and even more importantly, discourages the formation of clots that can close off arteries and cause heart attacks or strokes.
It could be the alcohol in the wine that is causing the effect, but white wine is not as effective. Tests have shown that red grape juice that is not fermented is also protective so it appears that it is something in the red part of the red wine that is the active ingredient. There is good evidence now that it is the tannins in red grape juice (fermented or not) that provides the protective effect. Tannins are complex molecules that give a young wine its astringent taste. Most wine affectionados lay the wine away for many years to allow the tannins to break down and produce a smooth balanced wine. Tannins are also powerful antioxidants, and it is this property that makes tannins important in the fight against heart disease.
As interest in the health benefits of red wine increases, other studies have been published that indicate that there may be other protective effects of red wine that go beyond the effect of the tannins. Just more reason to have a glass of red wine with your meal. Here's to your health!