Red wine, in moderation, has long been thought of as heart healthy. The alcohol and certain substances in red wine called antioxidants may help prevent coronary artery disease, the condition that leads to heart attacks.
Any links between red wine and fewer heart attacks aren't completely understood. But part of the benefit might be that antioxidants in red wine may increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) and protect against cholesterol buildup.
Doctors don't recommend that you start drinking alcohol for heart benefits, especially if you have a family history of alcohol addiction. Too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body.
But if you already enjoy a glass of red wine with your evening meal, drinking it in moderation appears to help your heart.
How is red wine heart healthy?
Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. A polyphenol called resveratrol is one substance in red wine that's gotten attention for its health benefits.
Alcohol itself may have some protective effects when consumed in moderation.
Resveratrol in red wine
Resveratrol might help prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and prevent blood clots.
However, studies on resveratrol are mixed. Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a lower risk of inflammation and blood clotting, which can lower your risk of heart disease. But other studies found no benefits from resveratrol in preventing heart disease.
More research is needed to determine if resveratrol lowers the risk of inflammation and blood clotting.
Resveratrol in grapes, supplements and other foods
The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol.
Simply eating grapes or drinking grape juice might be a way to get resveratrol without drinking alcohol. Red and purple grape juices may have some of the same heart-healthy benefits of red wine.
Peanuts, blueberries and cranberries also contain some resveratrol. It's not yet known how beneficial eating grapes or other foods might be compared with drinking red wine when it comes to promoting heart health. The amount of resveratrol in food and red wine can vary widely.
Resveratrol supplements also are available. Researchers haven't found any harm in taking resveratrol supplements, but your body can't absorb most of the resveratrol in supplements.
How might alcohol help the heart?
There's still no clear evidence that beer, white wine or liquor aren't any better than red wine for heart health.
Various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just alcohol found in red wine. It's thought that alcohol:
- Raises HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol)
- Reduces the formation of blood clots
- Helps prevent artery damage caused by high levels of LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol)
- May improve the function of the layer of cells that line your blood vessels
Drink in moderation — or not at all
The potential heart-healthy benefits of red wine and other alcoholic drinks look promising. Those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol, including red wine, seem to have a lower risk of heart disease.
However, it's important to understand that studies comparing moderate drinkers to nondrinkers might overestimate the benefits of moderate drinking because nondrinkers might already have health problems.
More research is needed before we know whether red wine is better for your heart than other forms of alcohol, such as beer or spirits.
The American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute don't recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems.
Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of:
- Liver and pancreas diseases
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Certain types of cancer
- Accidents, violence and suicide
- Weight gain and obesity
Avoid alcohol completely if you:
- Are pregnant
- Have a personal or strong family history of alcoholism
- Have a liver or pancreas disease associated with alcohol consumption
- Have heart failure or a weak heart
- Take certain medications
If you have questions about the benefits and risks of alcohol, talk to your doctor about specific recommendations for you.
If you already drink red wine, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means:
- Up to one drink a day for women of all ages.
- Up to one drink a day for men older than age 65.
- Up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more than women and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol.
A drink is defined as:
- 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer
- 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine
- 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits