The reported health benefits of red wine have included everything from lower blood pressure to helping seniors retain their balance. But one of the latest studies on red wine antioxidants reached a conclusion wine lovers probably don’t want to hear. The researchers suggest that in order to get the most benefits from red wine, it must be non-alcoholic.
The French Paradox
Red wine began to be looked at as a heart healthy beverage because of the “French Paradox.” French people were known to stay relatively lean despite a high fat diet, and red wine was identified as the key reason. Science supported that view with studies finding that antioxidants called polyphenols in red wine, resveratrol in particular, help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of good cholesterol and reducing inflammation, which in turn reduce blood clotting and prevent damage to blood vessels.
Research has also suggested that drinking a small amount of red wine regularly can lower your blood pressure, as well as your risk for heart attack and stroke. But doctors are wary of recommending that anyone start drinking alcohol.
Red wine and lower blood pressure
To investigate the effect of the polyphenols and alcohol in red wine Spanish researchers recruited 67 men with either cardiovascular risk factors or diabetes to drink either red wine, non-alcoholic red wine or gin. A single beverage was consumed for a month at a time.
There was a statistically insignificant change in blood pressure from drinking red wine and none from gin. However, after a month drinking non-alcoholic red wine, average blood pressure fell about 2 points. Although the drop was modest, it factored into a 14 percent reduced risk of heart disease and 20 percent reduced stroke.
Nitric oxide and blood vessels
The researchers suggested the non-alcoholic wine affected blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide in the bloodstream, a compound that relaxes blood vessels. The virgin wine was the only drink that had an affect on nitric oxide.
“Alcohol seems to counteract the effects of the non-alcoholic fraction in red wine,” said lead author Ramon Estruch. “Since alcohol in larger doses narrows the blood vessels, it can override the beneficial relaxation of the vessels by the polyphenols in the red wine.”
Room for doubt
Wine lovers can take some comfort in the fact that like most studies, this one has its flaws. First of all, it was a very small study of only 67 unhealthy men. A larger, longer study that includes healthy people and older women as well would have to produce similar results.
Plus, the men had no time for blood pressure to return to pre-study levels before switching to another drink. Plus, at the end of each drink period, blood pressure was measured for one day only and whether the drop in blood pressure could be sustained over time is still unknown.
Moderation is the key
What to take away from this study? It’s not yet clear whether alcohol cancels out the heart healthy effects of red wine. So far, no study has suggested that red wine in moderation raises blood pressure. For the time being, enjoying red wine—in moderation—is still considered healthy.