Red Wine & Heart Health: Facts, Myths, and What You Should Know

We like reading news articles that give us permission to indulge. Right? But how much truth is behind the long-touted idea that drinking red wine is good for your heart?

A review of scientific literature on these claims was performed by Paul E. Szmitko and Subodh Verma in the journal Circulation. They write that “the main health benefit of moderate alcohol use appears to be related to its effect on the development of atherosclerosis.”

In other words, an adult beverage now and then can help prevent fatty plaques from building up in your blood vessels. Your heart can be at risk if these fatty plaques start to deposit in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Decreased blood flow to the heart can promote clots, which can cause chest pain and even a heart attack.

Moderate Consumption

A number of studies link red wine with a reduced risk for heart attacks. But these observational results aren’t completely understood. The moderate consumption of alcohol is usually defined as one to two drinks per day: 1.5 oz. of liquor, 5 oz. of wine, or 12 oz. of beer. And this is limited in the authors’ definition to 3-4 days a week.

Can we pinpoint some particular properties of red wine that are beneficial for heart health, or is it just the moderate consumption of alcohol at play?

The French Paradox

French cuisine is known to be rich and generally high in saturated fat. So why is there a relatively low occurrence of coronary blockages reported in France when compared with the United States? This is sometimes referred to as the French Paradox, and may be at the root of the longstanding idea that red wine may be good for your heart.

The French, after all, consume much more red wine per capita than US citizens. More than 7 billion bottles of wine are produced in France every year, and the average French citizen drink 44 litres of red wine in a report from 2012.

The “French Paradox” is summed up by the relatively low level of heart disease despite the prevalence of diets rich in fatty foods within the culture. Researchers wondered if there was a connection to the high amount of red wine consumed by French citizens.

Copenhagen City Heart Study

The Copenhagen City Heart Study was a famous research endeavor in which 13,285 men and women were observed for 12 years. Results from the study show that patients who drank wine had half the risk of dying from coronary heart disease or stroke as those who never drank wine. Those who drank beer and spirits did not experience this effect.

The Final Say

The best approach is to take all your health-related concerns into consideration. Szmitko and Verma conclude that there simply isn’t enough evidence from all of the current studies to “encourage patients who do not drink to start consuming red wine as part of a strategy to protect against atherosclerosis.”

In other words, if you don’t drink now, there’s no definitive evidence to suggest that cracking a bottle open is going to significantly help your prospects.

Szmitko and Verma do not suggest that an individual start drinking red wine for the speculative potential benefit in reducing coronary blockages, if they are not already a regular consumer of red wine. But don’t be afraid to discuss how alcohol consumption can influence your health with your doctor.

Too much alcohol consumption can be awful for the heart, leading to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, and electrical disturbances in the heart.

In the end, the American Heart Association recommends that alcohol consumption be discussed between you and your primary care provider.

On the bright side, if you’ve been looking to cut back on your alcohol consumption, limiting yourself to 1-2 drinks a day may be easier than cutting it out altogether.


If you need to find a primary care provider, use our Find a Doctor tool here or call UP Health System – Marquette at any time at 844.411.8747 to find a doctor in Marquette, Harvey, Escanaba, Sault Ste. Marie, and across the Upper Peninsula.

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