Updated 8th September 2022

Does red wine really have health benefits?

Drinking too much alcohol comes with serious health risks. But there is evidence that drinking red wine in moderation may have health benefits. 

Research suggests that small amounts of red wine may reduce your chances of developing heart disease and can improve your gut health. It also shows promise in a number of other areas.

Many of the potential health benefits of red wine are based on its high levels of plant nutrients called polyphenols, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

Polyphenols are found in the pulp, seeds, and stems of red grapes, which are crushed to make wine. In fact, the number of polyphenols increases when the juice of the grapes goes through the winemaking process. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that drinking too much alcohol can elevate your risk of high blood pressure, cancer, liver disease, and stroke. If you do drink red wine, it’s therefore best to do so in moderation. 

At ZOE, we run the largest nutritional science study in the world, with over 10,000 participants so far. Our research has found that the way your body responds to food and drink is unique to you. 

You can take our free quiz to find out how the ZOE program can help you achieve your health goals. 

Read on to learn about the pros and cons of red wine. 

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Is it OK to drink red wine every day?

A 5 ounce glass of red wine (around 150 milliliters) per day with an alcohol content of 12% falls within U.S. guidelines for moderate drinking. 

The government’s 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that men have no more than two drinks a day and women no more than one. 

Research into how much red wine to drink is contradictory, and some studies have found potential health benefits with moderate consumption while others have found health risks.

For example, one study found that one or two drinks a day may help to keep your brain functioning well as you get older, maintaining things like vocabulary and word recall. 

But another study found links between drinking this amount and an increased risk of certain kinds of cancer.

The CDC recommend that regular drinkers try to cut down in order to reduce their risk of alcohol-related illnesses. One way to do this is to have one or two alcohol-free days each week. 

Remember, too, that guidelines are based on total alcohol intake, not just the red wine you drink. 

Should you swap white wine for red?

If you enjoy an occasional drink, there could be some good reasons to swap your glass of white for red. 

As part of the winemaking process, red wine spends longer in contact with the skins and seeds of the grapes than white wine. As a result, red wine has more polyphenols.

Our ZOE scientists agree that red wine is likely to be better for you than white. We generally recommend drinking white wine only in moderation, while you can enjoy red wine regularly as part of a healthy, balanced diet. 

The ZOE at-home test analyzes your blood sugar and blood fat responses in combination with the bacteria in your gut. Based on your results, we use the latest science to give you personalized nutrition advice. 

Take our free quiz to learn more about your unique biology.

Red wine health benefits

Many of the benefits attributed to red wine are due to its high levels and wide variety of antioxidants called polyphenols.

However, it’s important to know that a lot of the research looking into this is in early stages and involves studies with animals rather than people.

Two types of polyphenols found in red wine are catechins and epicatechins. Not only do they contribute to the bitter aspects of red wine’s flavor, but research also suggests that they can reverse skin damage caused by UV exposure. 

Resveratrol is another polyphenol common in red wine. Animal and cell model studies suggest it may have the potential to reduce the growth of cancer cells.

But more research is needed to draw conclusions since the majority of the studies are in cells and animals. 

Other potential benefits of drinking red wine are:

Better gut health 

Scientists have linked the bacteria that live in your gut to how well your body breaks down food, your immune system health, and even your brain function. 

ZOE scientific co-founder and gut microbiome expert Prof. Tim Spector describes polyphenols as “rocket fuel for your gut microbes.” 

In a recent study, Prof. Spector and his team found that participants who drank red wine regularly had more “good” bacteria in their guts.

Improved heart health

Research suggests that light to moderate red wine drinking could significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease. 

Polyphenols might contribute to this in several ways. The molecules may improve how well the blood vessels to the heart work, making blood flow easier and reducing the risk of coronary artery disease. 

They might also help to reduce the negative effects of cholesterol. 

Reduced risk of age-related conditions 

Animal studies have linked the polyphenol resveratrol to a reduced risk of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, and diabetes. 

Researchers believe this may be due to its protective effects against inflammation and cell damage, but more studies are needed to assess any similar benefits in humans.

Better mental health

Substances in red wine have the potential to protect against stress-related anxiety and depression.

One animal study found that resveratrol may help block the action of an enzyme involved in stress-related depression and anxiety.

Further research is needed to see whether these effects might also apply to humans.

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Does grape juice have the same benefits?

If red wine has potential health benefits, how about the fruit it’s made from? Could you get the same effects from eating red grapes or drinking grape juice as drinking red wine?

The process of fermentation that turns grape juice into alcohol in red wine actually increases its range of polyphenols. 

Nevertheless, grapes already contain plenty of polyphenols in their natural state, including resveratrol. 

Grapes and grape juice may have some of the potential benefits of red wine — and without the alcohol.

Health risks of drinking alcohol

Despite the potential health benefits associated with drinking small amounts of red wine, alcohol is still a toxin.

Drinking beyond moderation can lead to serious damage to your organs:

  • Liver: This includes conditions like alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis — repeated scarring of the liver that can stop it from functioning properly and can be life-threatening. 

  • Brain: Research shows that alcohol reduces the amount of grey matter in the brain.

  • Heart and blood vessels: Drinking too much puts stress on your heart and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

  • Pancreas: Long-term alcohol consumption can lead to a potentially painful condition called pancreatitis — inflammation of the pancreas — which interferes with digestion.

  • Cancer: Alcohol consumption increases your risk of several types of cancer, including mouth and throat cancer, and breast cancer in women. 

Summary

Red wine is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols. White wine doesn’t contain the same amount of these beneficial chemicals. 

When consumed in moderation, red wine may have health benefits, including improved heart, gut, and mental health, and a lower risk of age-related conditions.

Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol is linked to a greater risk of serious health conditions including liver damage, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

ZOE's research shows that everyone responds differently to the food and drink they consume because each person’s biology is unique. 

Take our free quiz to find out more about ZOE's personalized nutrition program and how we can help you achieve your long-term health goals.  

Sources

Alcohol and cancer. (2019). https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/alcohol/index.htm

Alcohol’s effects on the body. (n.d.). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body 

Association of low to moderate alcohol drinking with cognitive functions from middle to older age among US adults. JAMA Network Open. (2020). https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2767693 

Daily drinking is associated with increased mortality. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. (2018). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/acer.13886 

Dietary guidelines for alcohol. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm 

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. (n.d.) https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/

Excessive alcohol use. (n.d.).  https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/alcohol.htm

Grey matter structural differences in alcohol-dependent individuals with and without comorbid depression/anxiety-an MRI study. European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience. (2019). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29372325/

Lifespan and healthspan extension by resveratrol. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) — Molecular Basis of Disease. (2015). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443915000216 

Molecular properties of red wine compounds and cardiometabolic benefits. Nutrition and Metabolic Insights. (2016). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.4137/NMI.S32909 

Proanthocyanidins in grape seeds: an updated review of their health benefits and potential uses in the food industry. Journal of Functional Foods. (2020). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464620300852 

Red wine consumption and cardiovascular health. Molecules. (2019).  https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/24/19/3626/htm 

Red wine consumption associated with increased gut microbiota α-diversity in 3 independent cohorts. Gastroenterology. (2019). https://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(19)41244-4/fulltext 

Resveratrol: a double-edged sword in health benefits. Biomedicines. (2018). https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9059/6/3/91 

Resveratrol, in its natural combination in whole grape, for health promotion and disease management. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. (2015). https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nyas.12798 

Skin photoprotection by natural polyphenols: Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and DNA repair mechanisms. Archives of Dermatological Research. (2009). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2813915/

The antidepressant- and anxiolytic-like effects of resveratrol: involvement of phosphodiesterase-4D inhibition. Neuropharmacology. (2019). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002839081930139X 

What is a standard drink? (n.d.). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/what-standard-drink 

Wine and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation. (2017). https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.030387 

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