Throughout history, the health benefits of wine, especially the red varieties, have been extolled by many great people, including Hippocrates, Galen, Roger Bacon, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, Dr. Louis Pasteur, and many others. Red wine has been credited with anti-aging, anti-cancer, anti-heart-disease, increased libido, anti depression, etc….But in the modern world, what is the truth? What are the health benefits of red wine?
Although it was generally accepted by most health care professionals that moderate amounts of red wine could be beneficial, it was not until Dr. Serge Renaud of Bordeaux University described what he called the “French Paradox” in 1991, that any serious investigation was done. It was long known that the French have always had a significantly lower incidence of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and other health issues than America, and other European countries, despite the fact that they consume fats, butter, sugars, pastries, high-fat liver patès, and high-fat sauces on a regular basis. It is also a fact that Americans living in France tend to lose weight, and French immigrants to the US tend to gain weight. The difference is that the French regularly consume wine, and mostly red wine.
A lot of this could be partially explained by the French cultural traits of moderation in all things, the joy of living, their enjoyment of walking, and bicycling everywhere, and generally more health-conscious attitudes. But the big kicker was when research showed that there may be something in the wine that caused this ‘paradox’.
It was known that grape skins produce a chemical called reservatrol that retards fungal growth. Much like Penicillin, which is just a rye mold, the possible health implications were never studied before. New research showed that reservastrol also helps protect the brain and nervous system from damage, protects the circulatory system, and even can reverse damage to it, reduces inflammations, and has anti-cancer properties. In addition, wines also contained polyphenols, flavoniods, and phenolyc acids, all of which have positive bioactive effects on the body. It was quickly determined that in moderate amounts of 1 glass per day, wine could be considered a super-food.
That partially explained it, but in field studies, it appeared that red wine had a much more pronounced effect than white wines. The answer was in how wine is made. Different varieties of grapes produce different amounts of reservatrol, with the Grenache variety producing the highest levels on average. Grenache is the most popular red wine grape in the world. In addition, making red wine requires that the skins be in contact with the grape juice for a much longer period of time than with white wines. Or, it could be that red wine is just more popular in France…who knows????
The most recent studies seem to indicate that the amount of reservatrol also varies with the region the grapes were grown in, so it may be a white wine from a reservatrol-high region like Spain, or southern France may actually be better for you than a red wine from a reservastrol-poor region like California or Australia. White wines also have the advantage of being lower in calories than red wine, so a good French Chardonnay may be a better choice for someone who is weight-conscious. White wines also do not cause the headaches often associated with red wines. Red wines have significantly higher levels of histamines, which are a suspected cause of red wine headaches. White wines are also much less prone to drug-interactions than red wine.
Apparently, according to some studies, even Type 2 Diabetics can get the benefits of red wine. Preliminary results showed that drinking black teas, and red wine slows the absorption of glucose by the small intestine, preventing blood-sugar ‘spikes’ after eating. However, if you are taking Metformin or Glucophage, you need to be careful, and not take them at the same time as wine. This can result in a condition known as lactic acidosis, and is characterized by fatigue, nausea, muscle pain, difficulty in breathing, numbness in the arms and legs, and a slow or irregular heartbeat. This is mostly a danger to people with pre-existing heart conditions, liver or kidney disease, but it is best to play it safe. I am a Type 2 Diabetic taking Metformin twice a day, so I make sure that I have my wine at least 4 hours before I have to take the medication. I have not experienced any complications in several years, but you should consult your physician before adding wine to your diet. Other health conditions that could prohibit the use of wine for health purposes would be allergies to wine or alcohol, chronic dipsomania, (which is just doctor-talk for alcoholism….), and liver, or kidney problems.
There has been no final word yet on whether red or white wine is better. I suppose that you could play it safe, and just drink a half of a glass of each. However you do it, it would seem that there are very real health benefits that can be realized through the moderate use of wine, coupled with healthy diet and lifestyle choices. There appears to be evidence that one could actually experience an improvement in the quality of life through the health benefits of red wine.
*Authors Note: Nothing in this article is to be taken as medical advice of any kind. It is for informational purposes only. Always consult your Health Care provider before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet, or have any questions.