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Moderate drinking has been said to have health benefits, and red wine is reported to be the reason that French people have better cardiovascular health than Americans. Is drinking really a part of a healthy lifestyle, or should you think twice before opening that bottle of wine?
Red Wine and Heart Disease
The French Paradox is a term used to discuss the low incidences of coronary heart disease deaths in France, despite diets high in cholesterol and saturated fat. A prevailing theory for the French Paradox is that high consumption of wine – particularly red – offers cardio-protective effects.
Red wine is full of polyphenols, antioxidant compounds found in plants, which offer antioxidant protection against oxidative free radical damage. One of the polyphenols found in grape skins and in red wine is resveratrol, which has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects, and is currently being studied for its possible anti-tumor properties. As the theory goes, resveratrol could offer protective benefits to red wine drinkers.
Resveratrol is not only found in grape skins and red wine, this antioxidant polyphenol is also found in peanuts, dark chocolate, blueberries and cranberries.
Despite the hype, resveratrol and red wine may not be the only explanation behind the French Paradox, or the ticket to eternal youth and better health. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, red wine may be a rich source of resveratrol but other polyphenols are present in red wine at considerably higher concentrations. Recent research released by the John Hopkins University and published in the Jama Internal Medicine Journal puts a cork in this theory; “Resveratrol levels achieved with a Western diet did not have a substantial influence on health status and mortality risk of the population in this study.”
Another theory that may explain the French Paradox is the low instances of obesity among the French, despite diets high in saturated fat and high red wine consumption. A 2002 comparison found that 22% of adult Americans were obese, while only 7% of French adults were obese. The French method of eating smaller meals and taking a longer time to finish each meal leads to an overall thinner population, despite a richer diet.
Whether or not it is the diet or the antioxidants found in the wine, researchers still do’t know why the French have lower instances of deaths from heart disease. Unfortunately, there is no proof that drinking more wine will improve your cardiovascular health.
Drinking, Weight and Sleep
In the past, moderate drinking was linked to health benefits here in the U.S. as well. Moderate drinking is considered to be no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks for men, or about 12 or 14 grams of alcohol. In 1985, a health survey suggested that moderate drinkers were more likely to be at a healthy weight and get better sleep, and hundreds of studies have shown possible links between moderate drinking and reduced risk of heart attack, strokes and death from cardiovascular causes.
The New Recommendation
Researchers have found that moderate alcohol consumption only protects against coronary heart disease for people with a particular genotype against coronary heart disease. Only a limited 15% of the population possesses this genotype, meaning the other 85% of us will not benefit from moderate alcohol consumption.
Heavy drinking, or binge drinking, can have significant negative health effects on the body. Binge drinking can cause inflammation and scarring of the liver, increased blood pressure and damage to the heart muscle, and it’s been linked to cancer. Researchers have found that just one single episode of binge drinking can produce immune cells involved in inflammation and tissue destruction.
While scientists continue to research the possible health effects of alcohol consumption, it’s best to play it safe. If you do drink, be sure to drink moderately and not excessively. Save the spirits for special occasions, and don’t crack open a bottle of bubbly for health’s sake. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide just as much antioxidant protection as wine, and a tall glass of water is still the healthiest beverage you can drink.