Is red wine good for heart?
Some studies show that wine, particularly red wine, can protect against heart disease more effectively than beer or liquor at equivalent levels of consumption. These studies however may overestimate the benefit of red wine in boosting heart health. More importantly, like other alcoholic beverages, red wine contains alcohol that causes cancer. It is therefore irrational to consume red wine for protecting your heart.
The French paradox
The French paradox is the observation of low coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates in spite of high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat.1The French paradox concept was formulated by French epidemiologists in the 1980s, and subsequently popularised by the wine industry. The latter attributes the phenomenon to the common use of red wine in the French diet. Some argue otherwise as the paradox can be attributed to the under-reporting of CHD in France.2
While some studies suggest red wine contains certain antioxidants that can help protect the heart, other evidence shows that people who drink wine over other alcoholic beverages also tend to live healthier lives. For example, drinkers who prefer wine tend to smoke less, drink less and have a healthier diet than those who prefer beer or liquor. So, these other factors, which may be regarded as hidden causes, rather than the red wine may in fact be responsible for the better health outcomes.
Antioxidant in red wine
On the promotion of red wine, resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, was commercially stressed as a possible explanation for the French Paradox. This is however controversial whereas red wine contains low levels of resveratrol. 1 liter of red wine, for example, only yields to around 0.5-1.9 mg of resveratrol.3The presence of resveratrol in human diets is almost negligible, so the role of resveratrol in explaining the French paradox may be overvalued.4
Prior to 2010, furthermore, most of the research on resveratrol's antioxidant and anti-platelet properties was done using test-tube or tissue-culture preparations. Since that time, some human trials have been conducted, but the evidence is not yet adequate to provide practical conclusions.5Research on Hong Kong older Chinese adults has not shown any benefit of drinking to heart health. On the contrary, local evidence shows that drinking can increase the risk of death from ischaemic heart disease among the elderly.
Red wine causes cancer
One thing is however certain: red wine, like other alcoholic beverages, contains alcohol that is linked to cancer. “Ethanol in alcoholic beverages” and “acetaldehyde associated with alcohol consumption” (acetaldehyde is the main metabolite of ethanol in the body) have both been classified as Group 1 carcinogens, the same category as tobacco smoke, ionising radiation and asbestos, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization.Note
Epidemiologic studies have clearly indicated that alcohol drinking cause cancers of oral cavity, pharynx (excluding nasopharynx), larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectum, and female breasts. Alcohol’s carcinogenic effect is independent of the type of alcoholic beverages. In other words, the carcinogenic effect is the same for beer, wine or spirits. In fact, you can also have a healthy heart through a balanced diet, regular physical activity, no smoking and no drinking.
Note: The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk. That is to say, even though alcohol and tobacco smoke are assigned to the same category, this does not imply they are at equal risk of causing cancer.
- Alcohol causes cancer and should not be used for improving health.
- If you don’t drink, do not start drinking.
- If you choose to drink, limit your drinking after knowing the risk to minimise alcohol harm:
- Please note this is only a lower risk drinking, and there is no safety level for drinking.
- For your health and lowering risk of cancers, you can reduce your drinking step by step. Staying sober is the best option.
- Children, adolescents and pregnant women should not drink.
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1 Renaud S, de Lorgeril M. Wine, alcohol, platelets, and the French paradox for coronary heart disease. Lancet 1992;339:1523–6.
2 Law, M.; Wald, N. (1999). "Why heart disease mortality is low in France: the time lag explanation". British Medical Journal. 318 (7196): 1471–1480. doi:10.1136/bmj.318.7196.1471.
3 Mozzon M (1996). "Resveratrol content in some Tuscan wines". Ital. J. Food Sci. Chiriotti, Pinerolo, ITALIE. 8 (2): 145–52. INIST:3123149.
4 Tomé-Carneiro J. and others. Resveratrol in primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease: a dietary and clinical perspective. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1290:37-51, 201.
5 Wong RHX and others. Evidence for circulatory benefits of resveratrol in humans.