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Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman on February 14, 2012

Sources

Michael Smith, MD, WebMD’s Editor in Chief. Bianchini, F. European Journal of Cancer Prevention; October 2003; vol 12: pp 417-425. American Heart Association web site: "Alcohol, Wine and Cardiovascular Disease. "American Cancer Society. About.com web site: "Alcohol Can Act as a 'Blood Thinner." Harvard School of Public Health web site: "Alcohol."

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Wine bottles clanking together.

For years now we've been hearing about the health benefits of red wine. Even beer and hard liquor have been something to raise a glass to in certain medical circles.

But how healthy are they really?

A chemical called resveratrol is found in high doses in red wine. That's one chemical that does seem to have some healthy benefits to it.

Resveratrol is an antioxidant that is found in certain nuts, berries and the skins of red grapes.

Several studies show the substance may help ward off certain types of cancer, like prostate and lung cancers.

Wine bottles clanking together.

Red wine is the only alcoholic beverage found to contain a significant amount of the agent. But other spirits may also give you a healthy kick.

Alcohol in general may help kind of thin the blood. Blood clots are what leads to heart disease and even strokes.

There's also an association between alcohol and increasing h-d-l, good cholesterol, which is also associated with decreasing the risk of heart disease.

But don't go on a bender to celebrate the good news.

Alcohol can still be dangerous if abused and it may be disappointing to learn that the amount of alcohol needed to get these healthy benefits is actually quite small.

It's a four to five ounce glass of wine. It's one beer, or it's a drink with liquor with only one ounce of liquor in it. Women closer to one drink. Men closer to two drinks.

Less for women because research tells us women generally retain higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood than men.

And this makes them more susceptible to the toxins in alcohol. But it's not an open bar for men either.

If you're a drinker it's fine. The one to two drinks is fine.

If you're not a drinker, don't start drinking just to get these healthy benefits because there are other ways to get these healthy benefits.

Other ways like eating grapes, drinking grape juice or eating peanuts, blue berries, raspberries and mulberries.

What's important to take away from these studies is that moderation is key. In large enough amounts, red wine can cause wicked hangovers and has also been known to trigger migraines in some people.

We're talking one to two drinks a day which is not going to be enough to give anybody a hangover.

If you're drinking above and beyond that, not only are you not getting the healthy benefits of the red wine or the alcohol anymore, you're also damaging your body in other ways.

For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.

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