Red Wine for a Healthy Heart?
What are the pros and cons of drinking red wine?
The wine industry has benefited tremendously from reports that moderate drinking of red wine can lower the risk of coronary heart disease. After 60 Minutes reported on the "French Paradox" in 1991, sales of cabernet and merlot soared.
The French Paradox was first discovered when epidemiologists tried to explain the low death rates from heart disease in France in spite of a very high-fat, high-cholesterol diet. Various studies followed that showed an association between drinking red wine and a heart-attack risk that was 25 to 40 percent lower. Last fall, 60 Minutes followed up with a report from the Copenhagen City Heart Study of 13,000 people over 10 years. Researchers there concluded that teetotalers had twice as much risk of dying from heart disease as people who drank wine every day.
The exact mechanism isn't known, but the most popular explanation credits the red pigments in grape skins. These are members of a family of compounds called proanthocyanidins, which are powerful antioxidants. If this is the primary action, however, you would get the same benefits from drinking red grape juice or eating enough red and purple fruit (certain grapes, plums, blueberries).
The tannins in red wine also can hinder the platelet cells in the blood from clumping together and triggering a heart attack. Plus, other studies have found that any alcohol can raise levels of HDL - the protective form of cholesterol - and also inhibit platelet clumping.
But let's not forget that alcohol is toxic to the liver and to the nervous system. Most wines also contain a variety of additives, such as sulfites, which may be harmful to your health. If you're going to be a regular wine-drinker, I'd recommend doing it in moderation, and selecting an organic product if possible. There is an increasing market for organic wines, produced both domestically and abroad.
I personally don't like red wine because I think I'm allergic to something in it. It gives me a stuffy nose and a sour stomach. Red wine is a common allergen that can trigger migraine headaches as well as nasal and gastric disturbances. But again, this may have more to do with additives in wine than the wine itself, which is another reason to look for organic sources.