If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a nice glass of wine a few times a week. And what’s not to love, right? Wine has a high antioxidant content, specifically the polyphenols flavonoids and resveratrol that are thought to provide us with many health benefits that we often see associated with a glass or two.
Light to moderate consumption of wine has been associated with improved cognitive function when compared to those who are at either end of the spectrum. Scans of the brain reveal that people who drink moderately have fewer brain lesions than those who don’t, suggesting a protective effect against Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia through the anti-inflammatory effects of the polyphenols.
Wine also enhances the body’s ability to produce nitric oxide and improves endothelial function which is important for overall vascular health, thus is associated with a lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. All these health benefits contribute to wine’s reputation as being some type of elixir.
And it doesn’t stop there. Over 60 dietary factors influence the diversity of the gut, and red wine is one. As we understand now, the gut is an important driver of overall health — a gatekeeper if you will, and diversity of bacteria has been positively associated with improved health and longevity. Specifically, the presence of bifidobacteria and lactobacillus increased, as did butyrate-producing bacteria (butyrate being an important energy source for our gut). This was at the expense of the less desirable bacteria.
In a 30-day randomised clinical trial comparing bacteria present in faecal matter of people with metabolic syndrome (MetS) and healthy controls, researchers found daily consumption of 272ml of wine (alcoholised or de-alcoholised) caused the bacterial profile of both groups to be indistinguishable.
The researchers suggest polyphenols in the wine (resveratrol specifically) was responsible for changes in the gut microbiome. But, though they suggested wine could be an effective strategy for managing metabolic diseases, I’d hold off on the daily consumption just yet, given that there are really good reasons NOT to imbibe seven days a week.
Recent New Zealand research has found a dose-response relationship between alcohol intake and seven different forms of cancer. This aligns with the Cancer Society’s recommendations to have alcohol-free days and the UK’s recent changes to their recommendations, reducing the 21 drink limit for males down to 14 standard drinks, to match that of female recommendations.
Drinking 50g of alcohol a day (roughly four wines) places a person at seven times increased risk of mouth cancer. Now that might seem like a lot, however I speak to many people about alcohol on a weekly basis, and that is just over half a bottle of wine. If you drink a bottle every couple of nights, you can see how it easily increases your risk.
It is worth noting that even drinking less than this will still raise the risk.
Most importantly … sleep
Alcohol has acute negative effects too. Though wine may initially relax you, drinking too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep, as the alcohol is a toxin and therefore your liver has to work to excrete it from your system. This can cause an increase in stress hormones and a decrease in blood sugar — waking you up between 2 and 4am.
It can also affect the architecture of your sleep — putting you into a deeper sleep initially, but reducing the amount of rapid eye movement sleep. Slow wave sleep is important for regeneration of muscle tissue, bones and strengthening the immune system, which could explain some of the health benefits associated with drinking.
However, those who suffer from sleep apnoea or sleepwalking are likely to experience more problems if they drink too much or too close to bedtime. The flip side is we spend less time in REM sleep, where dreams occur and memory formation and learning consolidation takes place.
So the message is to moderate the number of wines (or any alcohol), and try to stop drinking 3-4 hours before bed.
Dose by dose
But really, the key is in the dose, right? If you are someone who doesn’t drink I don’t think it’s necessary to start drinking just to realise these benefits — an awesome diet providing plenty of antioxidants through vegetable and fruit consumption, good omega 3 fats and lower processed vegetable oils and trans fats, appropriate activity, laughter, time in nature and surrounding yourself with people you love is enough.
If you do enjoy a glass or two, you can probably continue to do so a few days a week and experience the benefits wine has to offer. More than this, or more often than this, and it is worth considering reducing your intake.
Through her subscription service of meal plans and nutritional support, nutritionist Mikki Williden helps people manage their diets in an interesting way, at a low cost. Find out more at mikkiwilliden.com