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Wine and heart health: How much benefit does it provide?

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Wine and Heart Benefits

Many studies have shown that alcohol, consumed in moderation, can be beneficial to your health – and that includes your heart.

I’ve enjoyed wine for a long time, and I've always been interested in the production and history of different wines. My love of wine and my passion for cardiology intersected when the American Heart Association stated the following:

For people who choose to consume alcohol, drinking wine in moderation is part of a heart-healthy lifestyle.

No one suggests that people start drinking for the health benefits. But if you already enjoy wine, you can be reassured that it is part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, as long as you stay within certain limits.

How does drinking wine help keep me healthy?

We know that drinking wine in moderation is beneficial to your health, but we don't yet know why. Much of the benefit derives from the alcohol itself; as such, benefit can be seen with most alcoholic beverages, not just wine. In terms of the magnitude of benefit, numerous studies have shown that benefits afforded by modest consumption of alcohol are similar to those provided by medications that are prescribed to treat heart disease.

Let me explain…

In medicine, we use the term "mortality benefit" to describe how much a medicine decreases the risk of dying. For example, aspirin has been proven to have around a 30 percent mortality benefit for patients with cardiovascular disease. Other commonly prescribed medications also provide a roughly 30 percent benefit.  In fact, 30 percent mortality benefit from any single agent is a "home run" in medicine; it doesn't get better than that.

Amazingly, wine consumed in moderation also affords 30 percent mortality benefit! It is as robust and powerful at combating heart disease as our strongest medicines.

We know that drinking wine helps raise your good cholesterol, but it's likely the mechanism of benefit is much more involved than that. Drinking wine during meals is part of the Mediterranean Diet (which is also marked by consumption of fruit, vegetables, and olive oil), and we know that this diet is associated with dramatic improvements in cardiovascular mortality.

Again, regardless of the health benefits, we do not advise patients to start drinking wine solely to improve their health.

How much wine is the right amount to be heart-healthy?

As the old saying goes – "Everything in moderation." In this context, moderation means:

  • 2 drinks per day for a man
  • 1 drink per day for a woman

A drink is defined as:

  • A 4- to 6-ounce glass of wine
  • An 8-ounce glass of beer
  • A shot of liquor

When you consume more alcohol than this, studies show that the risk of other bad events increases, including accidents, liver disease, and more.

It has been suggested that red wine is better for your health than white wine, and that may be true, but really only at the margins; the difference between the two is not that great.

In this area of medicine, we are no longer asking whether alcohol is beneficial to your health. We know it is. The cutting-edge question today is, how does it work?

Dr. Hill is Chief of Cardiology and Director of the Harry S. Moss Heart Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He also is certified as a wine sommelier, meaning he can evaluate wines based on how, where and when they were produced.