Is wine good for you?

Health benefits of drinking wine - a guide sorting out facts from wishful thinking.

Red wine

While excessive and binge drinking is best avoided, moderate drinking (1-2 units a day) can have some benefits for heart health. Sorting out fact from wishful thinking isn't easy. We look at the facts and find a little wine is probably fine - just don't overdo it.

Facts and fallacies

There's been a lot of talk lately about the risks and rewards that drinking wine has on your health. So what's true and what's not? In reality 'moderate' drinking (one or two units a day) does seem to protect against heart disease - but primarily for men aged over 40 and post-menopausal women. There is little evidence that drinking wine or other alcohol will improve the health of younger people, who are less at risk of heart disease in the first place. According to the British Heart Foundation, drinking more than two units a day may be harmful.

But before you go and pour your wine collection down the sink - relax. It really is true that wine - particularly red wine - does contain several antioxidants, such as quercetin and resveratrol, which may play a part in helping to prevent heart disease and cancer. To avoid significant risk to health women should drink no more than three units a day while men should have a maximum of four units a day.

Raise your glass to red wine

Red wineScientists have found that red wines have higher levels of polyphenols, antioxidants and, in general, the darker the wine, the higher the antioxidant content - in tests, cabernet sauvignon grapes were shown to contain the most polyphenols.

Professor Andrew Waterhouse, of the University of California, suggests that other red grape varieties with medium to high levels of antioxidants are merlot, zinfandel, syrah and petit syrah.

Waterhouse also suggests that wines from milder regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja and California's Napa Valley, may have higher antioxidant levels than wines from hot regions such as Languedoc in France and southern Italy.

Some research suggests that white wine has health benefits too. Winemakers have created a chardonnay called Paradoxe Blanc, which is four times higher in polyphenols than red wine.


Beware of binge drinking

According to Alcohol Concern, at least one in four men and one in seven women drink more than the guidelines. This can make you more vulnerable to heart disorders, including high blood pressure and stroke, even if you are not in a high-risk group. For women in their twenties, drinking heavily can contribute to osteoporosis later on.

Binge drinking is especially harmful and can damage the brain. Regular heavy drinking is associated with a wide range of other health problems from liver disease to loss of libido, menstrual problems, nerve and muscle damage, and psychiatric problems, including clinical depression, as well as increased risk of accidents.

Alcohol is thought to be responsible for about three per cent of all cancer cases - people who drink more than five units a day are more likely to develop cancer of the mouth, larynx or oesophagus. But Dr Morten Gronbaek from the Danish National Health Institute argues that moderate wine drinkers have fewer coronary diseases and cancers than those who prefer other alcoholic drinks.

The jury is still out....

How many units are you really drinking?

Use this guide to see how many units of alcohol are in a small 125ml glass of wine. 

Be aware that when you order a glass of wine in a bar or restaurant you will often be served a measure larger than 125ml.

  • 9% alcohol by volume = 1 unit
  • 10% abv = 1.25 units
  • 11% abv = 1.375 units
  • 12% abv = 1.5 units
  • 13% abv = 1.625 units
  • 14% abv = 1.75 units 

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