Research has found that drinking red wine — in moderation — can be good for your heart. However, consuming too much red wine, or any alcohol, is particularly bad for your heart, and can increase your risk for heart disease.
Here’s what you should know about the heart benefits of red wine and how much of it is considered healthy.
Yes, red wine can be heart healthy
The link between red wine and a healthy heart may be due to the high level of micronutrients, called polyphenols, found in the skin and seeds of grapes.
During the production process, red wine is fermented with the grape skins and seeds for a longer period of time than white wine, which means the polyphenols are much more concentrated. For example, a glass of red wine contains around 10 times more polyphenols than a glass of white wine.
These polyphenols — especially a polyphenol called resveratrol — have been shown to protect and support heart health.
Red wine can lower cholesterol
The polyphenols in red wine have antioxidant properties. This means they prevent or reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), the “bad” type of cholesterol molecules we carry in our bloodstream.
When LDLs are oxidized, they build up in the walls of our arteries and narrow them, so that less blood and oxygen can reach the heart. This can cause coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease, and the leading cause of death in the US.
Moderate consumption of red wine can also increase the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the “good cholesterol” in our blood, which is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. HDL cholesterol is good because it helps remove excess LDL cholesterol from the blood vessels.
For example, a small controlled study published in the journal Atherosclerosis in 2006 found that after drinking 400 ml (about two to three glasses) of red wine every day for six weeks, LDL cholesterol decreased by 8% in postmenopausal women who had high LDL levels, while HDL cholesterol increased by 17%.
Another study published in 2005 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that four weeks of moderate red wine consumption daily — 300 ml for males and 200 ml for females — increased levels of HDL cholesterol by a greater amount than drinking the non-alcoholic, wine-equivalent dose of red grape extract tablets with water.
Red wine may help prevent blood clots
Some research has found that drinking red wine may decrease platelet aggregation, which can also help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Platelets are tiny cells in our blood that bind together around damaged blood vessels when we become injured. This clotting is what stops us from bleeding and helps us heal when we get a minor cut.
However, when platelets aggregate too much, they can form blood clots. Blood clots are serious because they can block the flow of blood and oxygen to vital organs, increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
By reducing the stickiness of the platelets in your blood, red wine can help prevent blood clots and reduce your risk for health complications. For example, a 2002 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine measured platelet aggregation levels in male volunteers after moderate wine consumption and found they were significantly inhibited.
How much red wine is good for your heart
In order to receive the heart health benefits of red wine, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than one drink a day for women and two a day for men. For reference, one drink is equal to five ounces, or 140ml of wine.
Drinking too much wine, or any type of alcohol in excess, is very bad for your heart, says Robert A. Kloner MD, PhD, Chief Science Officer of Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Pasadena, California and Professor of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
Excessive drinking can also lead to heart failure — a disease which makes it harder for your heart to pump blood around your body — and atrial fibrillation, which is a type of arrhythmia where the heart beats quickly and irregularly.
Read more to learn about how different levels of alcohol consumption affect the heart.
Drinking several glasses of red wine throughout the week can be part of a heart healthy lifestyle. But in general, you shouldn’t drink more than one or two glasses each night.
In addition, it’s important to note that there are many other foods that contain the polyphenols found in red wine — which may have the same heart health benefits. For instance, you can find resveratrol in grape juice, peanuts, cocoa, blueberries, and cranberries.
You don’t need to drink red wine to have a healthy heart. But, if you like drinking red wine, the good news is that it may have some heart benefits — just make sure you drink in moderation.