Flavonoids called anthocyanins color your wine a rich red, but evidence is needed to show how drinking them in wine could bring about direct health benefits.
Some research points to polymer chains of flavonoids called "proanthocyanidins," like condensed tannins.
That tart flavor you taste when sipping red wine comes from the tannins found in the grapes’ stalks, skins and seeds. Tannins leave the mouth bitter and dry, one reason why a “tannic” wine may have sediment. Proanthocyanidins are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. They help maintain collagen and elastin—the connective tissue proteins throughout the body that give us younger-looking, wrinkle-free skin.
A study in Nature found that local wines in Sardinia, Italy, and southwestern France had up to four times as many procyanidins (a specific type of proanthocyanidins) as other wines. The people in these regions are known for their longevity, which suggests that the health benefits of wine may contribute to longer lives.
“Wine drinkers tend to have greater benefits, especially if they drink a little almost every day and do not binge drink,” says R. Curtis Ellison, M.D., director of the Institute for Lifestyle and Health at Boston University School. “For preventing Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia and for most of the other diseases of aging, wine seems to be even more preferable than other beverages—it’s especially better than similar amounts of ethanol [aka alcohol] from spirits—in terms of health benefits,” Dr. Ellison says
Scientists are currently measuring the breakdown of compounds in wine, to identify if the byproducts bring about some of the observed health benefits linked to wine.
The Benefits of Booze
In general, moderate alcohol drinkers enjoy heart-health benefits, presenting a case that it’s not the resveratrol or flavonoids at all, but any alcohol, even tequila. “Many chemicals, including ethanol itself, can have healthy effects on our bodies,” says Arnink. “The long-term challenge for researchers is to determine how all of these chemicals, together, improve human health.”
A recent study shows that moderate drinking (one alcoholic beverage per day in midlife) boosted the chance of “successful aging” at age 70—free of cancer, heart disease or significant cognitive decline. The study also found that women who had one to two drinks a day had an even greater chance of good health, nearly 30 percent more than their non-drinking counterparts.
“The most important factor is the pattern of drinking: small amounts—a drink or two—on most days of the week without binge drinking,” says Dr. Ellison.
So what’s just one drink? A glass of wine for women is five ounces, equal to the alcohol content of a 12-ounce bottle of beer or a 1.5-ounce shot glass of 80-proof distilled spirits (think hard liquor).
Downing four of these within two hours, which is considered binge drinking, could have the opposite health effects, putting you at a greater risk for heart disease due to increased blood pressure and triglycerides, which contribute to high cholesterol.
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