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Fact Check: Drinking Red Wine Is Both Beneficial and Detrimental to Health. Surprised?

A meme says, "This is what happens when you drink a glass of red wine." Directly blow it is a glass of red wine. Clockwise around the meme, it gives the reasons to drink red wine are to warm up, heart health, look good, fight sickness, burn fate, and better sleep. Underneath the headings are further information about them.
Pinterest account @korrinej

Claim:

As stated in an internet meme, drinking red wine carries health benefits such as increasing heart health, improving sleep, burning fat, and fighting sickness.

Rating:

Rating: Mixture
Rating: Mixture

Context:

The meme is partially accurate but omits mention of corresponding health disadvantages of drinking red wine.

 

The symbolism of wine has long received nearly worshipful status, first by ancient Georgians and eventually taking on divine embodiments in the form of the Greek god Dionysus, the Roman god Baccus, and the Egyptian god Shezmu. Today, red wine in particular is widely believed to carry numerous health benefits, adding to its legend as a cure-all happy juice.

The graphic above – seen across several social media sites including Instagram, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, and Pinterest – features a few of the most common questions regarding the health properties of red wine, such as whether red wine warms you up, increases heart health, makes you look good, gets you better sleep, burns fat, and fights Type 2 diabetes. While it's tempting to attach a myriad of health benefits to red wine, it's also imperative that consumers understand the limits to the drink's seemingly endless list of magical health properties. Below are a few clarifications:

'Warm Up'

The graphic above claims that red wine warms you up, given that it makes "blood vessels dilate, causing warm blood to move closer to the skin's surface." It's true that red wine does make your blood vessels dilate. A 2000 study by The European Society of Cardiology found that the ethanol (alcohol compound also found in other wines, beer, and liquor) content caused the brachial artery to dilate, which increased blood flow.

However, a study published by the Journal of Wilderness Medicine in 1994 found that the sensation of warmth felt after consuming alcohol can be misleading, as "alcohol acts as a poikilothermic agent [causing inability to regulate core body temperature], causing a reduction in body core temperature during cold exposure. The severity of alcohol's poikilothermic effect depends on a wide variety of factors such as a person's body weight and the intensity of the cold. Additionally, the same 1994 study found that alcohol impairs the body's ability to shiver, an important mechanism for generating body heat.

'Heart Health'

The graphic claims that "red wine tannins protect against heart disease and lower your risk of heart attacks." The evidence is too scant to confidently rate this true, although red wine does contain some antioxidant compounds that may have "cardioprotective properties."

According to an article on the Harvard Health Blog from 2020, the evidence pointing to red wine, or alcohol in general, as being beneficial in avoiding heart disease is "pretty weak," as stated by Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, an internist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. According to a 2017 study by the scientific journal "Circulation," many studies have concluded that wine and alcohol carry cardiovascular benefits, "but with one important caveat: most of these investigations, although involving large sample sizes with cross-cultural and geographical comparisons, were epidemiological," meaning that they were more focused on the effects of alcohol in relation to causes of disease as opposed to direct benefit.

Resveratrol – a natural compound that acts like an antioxidant – is most commonly found in grapes' skin and seeds and may have cardioprotective properties, according to a 2018 study published in "Biomedicines."

However, an earlier Harvard blog post also touches on the resveratrol content of red wine, with Dr. David Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, pointing out that "you would need to drink a hundred to a thousand glasses of red wine to equal the doses that improve health in mice."

'Look Good'

This claim, which reads that "facial muscles loosen and cheeks flush with color, causing you to look more relaxed, and thus more attractive," is entirely subjective, and it has no scientific foundation. However, it is true that alcohol can relax your muscles because it's a depressant (slows down the central nervous system), and alcohol can also make some people experience "alcohol flush reaction," or a reddening of the face.

'Better Sleep'

The claim reads: "You enjoy better sleep – even compared to people who drank only water." While alcohol is a nervous system depressant that can cause you to fall asleep faster, a study from 2018 found that large amounts of alcohol or alcohol consumed regularly over long periods of time can disrupt normal sleeping patterns later in the night. This is because while sedating at first, as alcohol metabolizes it becomes an activator, preventing deep sleep. The study found that those suffering from alcohol abuse or dependence experience "chronic sleep disturbance, lower slow wave sleep, and more rapid eye movement sleep than normal, that last long into periods of abstinence and may play a role in relapse." Additionally, wine and spirits especially act as a diuretic – meaning that they increase your urine output – causing sleep to be disrupted.

'Burn Fat'

The graphic claims that red wine burns fat because "ellagic acid dramatically slows the growth of fat cells and lowers your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is untrue. We've previously reported on whether or not drinking red wine "makes you skinny," citing a Harvard study from 2010 that found that women who drank wine still gained weight, even if less so than non-drinkers. We found that the study "in no way indicated that wine helped with weight loss."

One reason this may be a common misconception is because grapes' resveratrol content, which can convert white adipose tissue (a kind of fat) into a metabolically active (energy-burning) brown fat, has been shown to lead to weight loss in studies done with mice. Resveratrol is also found in peanuts, chocolate, and some berries. Grape juice, for example, would provide the same amount of resveratrol, without the alcohol content. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, "although red wine is a source of resveratrol, it carries side effects with it such as being highly concentrated in calories and alcohol."

'Fight Sickness'

Lastly, the graphic in question claims that red wine can "fight sickness," also saying that "ellagic acid dramatically slows the growth of fat cells and lowers your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes." While it is somewhat true that consuming alcohol can decrease your risk of diabetes, consuming immoderately can likewise increase your risk.

Ellagic acid is present in red wine, and acts as an antioxidant. According to the American Diabetes Association, moderate drinking (one small drink a day for women and two for men) can "improve blood glucose (blood sugar) management and insulin sensitivity." However, when alcohol is combined with diabetes medications, such as insulin and sulfonylureas, the consumer can be more at risk for low blood glucose.

Essentially, alcohol does not cause diabetes, but both heavy consumption and zero consumption of alcohol increases your risk for diabetes.

Sources:

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Alleyne, Jerusalem, and Alex M. Dopico. ‘Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Harmful Effects on the Contractility of Skeletal, Cardiac and Smooth Muscles’. Advances in Drug and Alcohol Research, vol. 1, Oct. 2021, p. 10011. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3389/ADAR.2021.10011.

Colrain, Ian M., et al. ‘Alcohol and the Sleeping Brain’. Handbook of Clinical Neurology, vol. 125, 2014, pp. 415–31. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-62619-6.00024-0.

Contributor, WebMD Editorial, and Kristin Mitchell. ‘Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Red Wine?’ WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-red-wine. Accessed 24 Nov. 2023.

Corliss, Julie. ‘Is Red Wine Actually Good for Your Heart?’ Harvard Health, 20 Feb. 2018, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-red-wine-good-actually-for-your-heart-2018021913285.

Costa, Rui Miguel, et al. ‘The Power of Dionysus—Effects of Red Wine on Consciousness in a Naturalistic Setting’. PLoS ONE, vol. 16, no. 9, Sept. 2021, p. e0256198. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256198.

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