Red Wine Rx

by Christine Perrenot

Toasting to your health with a glass of red wine may actually have medical benefits.

Research is showing that drinking red wine may actually make you healthier and even extend your life. Red wine contains polyphenol antioxidants and a substance called resveratrol. The National Cancer Institute reports that recent studies show healthy benefits from their consumption. And the Mayo Clinic Says that the antioxidants may protect against artery damage by increasing the levels of “good” cholesterol.

But don’t rejoice too much. The secret is in how red wine is consumed.

“While the news about red wine might sound great if you enjoy a glass of red wine with your evening meal, doctors are wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol,” Mayo says on its Web site. “That’s because too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body.”

No one suggests that those who do not drink should begin doing so just for health benefits that can be easily outweighed by alcohol addiction and by the damage done to the body from excessive consumption.

“Moderation is always something to teach patients about,” said Camille Davenport, a neonatal intensive care nurse at UT Southwestern.

The Mayo Clinic defines moderate drinking as an average of two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do.

What if you are pregnant?

As always, consult your physician but be prepared to hear the doctor say what other health care professionals say: No.

“There is no known safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink while pregnant,” says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. “When you are pregnant and you drink beer, wine, hard liquor, or other alcoholic beverages, alcohol gets into your blood. The alcohol in your blood gets into your baby’s body through the umbilical cord. Alcohol can slow down the baby’s growth, affect the baby’s brain, and cause birth defects.”

Davenport, the UT Southwestern neonatal nurse agrees.

“Drinking a glass of wine per day while pregnant is definitely frowned upon,” Davenport said. “It is not proven to be safe, and there could be life-long harmful effects on the baby.”

The March of Dimes says the prohibition against drinking should extend to women who may be pregnant or who are attempting to get pregnant since “women often do not know they are pregnant for a few months.”

Promising Research

The research is promising and ongoing.Whether the benefit is actually from wine itself or from the ingredients in the skins of grapes and therefore available from the grapes themselves or unfermented grape juice is still to be determined.

In the meantime, it appears that the good can outweigh the bad if drinking is done responsibly. While the research scientists are struggling with the details, there seems to be no harm in enjoying a glass of red wine if you aren’t pregnant or burdened with any already existing health concerns. We’ll drink to that. Cheers!