Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on June 22, 2022
Alcohol: Risks vs. Benefits

Alcohol: Risks vs. Benefits

1/10

The risks of drinking alcohol include impaired judgment; a higher chance of cancer, stroke, and liver disease; obesity; and more. But there are positives, too: In moderation, it can raise your HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol), prevent blood clots and artery damage from LDL cholesterol, and help your blood vessels work their best.

Why Wine?

Why Wine?

2/10

Alcohol (ethanol) alone brings benefits, but one specific perk of wine comes from antioxidants called polyphenols. They protect the lining of your blood vessels and prevent plaque buildup in your arteries.

Reach for Red

Reach for Red

3/10

When wineries make white wine from grapes, they take off the skins before fermenting them. Red wine comes from grapes with skins still on, and that’s where most of the antioxidants live. But even though this gives red wine a slight leg up, there’s not yet enough scientific data to dub it “healthier” than white.  

Wine’s Super Ingredient

Wine’s Super Ingredient

4/10

One of the often-touted benefits of wine is a specific polyphenol antioxidant called resveratrol. Studies on this plant compound are ongoing, but some show it may lower blood pressure, control cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, make you more sensitive to insulin (which helps you regulate blood sugar), and even boost your brain power.

Polyphenols Elsewhere

Polyphenols Elsewhere

5/10

Although the polyphenols in wine are where a lot of its health benefits come from, downing a glass of cabernet isn’t the only way to get the goods. Tea, coffee, berries, onions, and apples all have even higher amounts than a drink with dinner.

Sulfite Side Effects

Sulfite Side Effects

6/10

The yeast fermenting process of wine creates sulfites (sulfur dioxide); all wines have them. Many wineries add extra sulfites to increase shelf life. Sulfites can make asthma symptoms worse and, in some people, cause flushed skin, stomach pain, and diarrhea.

What About Tannins?

What About Tannins?

7/10

Tannins are another polyphenol you find in wine, but they have a slightly different effect than resveratrol. Some studies show they work as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, but they can mess with your digestion. And in high levels, they can make it hard for your body to absorb iron.

Germ-Fighting in Your Gut

Germ-Fighting in Your Gut

8/10

When compared to other types of alcohol, red wine has more antibacterial activity against gut bacteria like H. pylori. Polyphenols called flavonoids are the reason – and they may lower your risk of stomach cancer.

Serving Size Matters

Serving Size Matters

9/10

The American Heart Association says one to two drinks a day for men and up to one drink a day for women can lower risks to your heart and blood vessels. In the U.S., a drink usually means 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of hard liquor. More than that, and you’re entering the zone where the risks outweigh the benefits.

Takeaway

Takeaway

10/10

While some things about alcohol can help lower heart disease, doctors don’t recommend you start drinking if you don’t already. If you do drink, keep it in the moderate range so you reap the best of its health benefits.

Show Sources

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

  1. d3sign / Getty Images
  2. CHRISTOPH BURGSTEDT/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images
  3. Linda Raymond / Getty Images
  4. Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
  5. Westend61 / Getty Images
  6. manusapon kasosod / Getty Images
  7. Morsa Images / Getty Images
  8. Science Photo Library – PASIEKA / Getty Images
  9. Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images
  10. SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

 

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart?”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Is Wine Fine, or Beer Better?” “Weighing the healthfulness of red vs. white wine.”

Piedmont Healthcare: “Which wine is healthier for you – red or white?”

Nutrients: ”Resveratrol and Cardiovascular Diseases.”

Molecular Nutrition and Food Research: “Consumption of a grape extract supplement containing resveratrol decreases oxidized LDL and ApoB in patients undergoing primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: a triple-blind, 6-month follow-up, placebo-controlled, randomized trial.”

Inflammation: “Effects of resveratrol in inflammatory arthritis.”

The Review of Diabetic Studies: “Resveratrol and Diabetes.”

Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience: “Resveratrol and Alzheimer’s disease: message in a bottle on red wine and cognition.”

Cleveland Clinic: “5 Food Additives You Should Avoid.”

Gastroenterology and Hepatology From Bed to Bench: “Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives.”

Toxin Review: “Health effects, sources, utilization and safety of tannins: a critical review.”

Current Developments in Nutrition: “The Impact of Tannin Consumption on Iron Bioavailability and Status: A Narrative Review.”

Molecules: “Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection.”