Wine & health

Prepared by fermenting grapes and composed of roughly 85% water, 12% ethyl-alcohol, a touch of tartaric, malic and several other acids, wine also contains various sugars and carbohydrates, less common alcohols, aromatic aldehydes, ketones, phenolics, enzymes, pigments, many vitamins, some minerals and other substances yet to be identified, the number of which is estimated to range from 800 different compounds to over 1000. There are in all, around 300 separate ingredients characterized in wine so far. Most of these elements lend complexity to wine flavors, and have either prophylactic characteristics against human diseases or preservative effects on the body itself. Indeed, the medical profession has recognized healthful and nutritive properties in wine for thousands of years. Recent archeological evidence shows wine was in use as a pharmaceutical as early as 3150 BC1. Hippocrates recommended specific wines to purge fever, disinfect and dress wounds, as diuretics, or for nutritional supplements, around 450 BC.

Most of the pathogens that threaten humans are inhibited or killed off by the acids and alcohols in wine. Because of this, it was considered to be a safer drink than much of the available water up until the 18th century. As part of a normal diet, it restores nutritional balance, provides the body with energy, with small amounts of minerals and vitamins, and with substances that aid digestion. It can also stimulate the appetite. Wine is a mild natural tranquilizer, serving to reduce anxiety and relieve tension. In addition, it is a sedative and also acts as a mild euphoric agent to the convalescent and especially the aged. Wine continued to play a major role in medicine until the late 19th and early 20th century, with the most noble ones such as Tokaji being listed in national drug codes, for instance in Hungary2,3.

As with all beverages that contain ethanol, wine is a psychotropic drug. The effects or response vary by individual metabolism and quantity consumed. It is deceptively easy, however, to indulge beyond the safe measure. As the amount of alcohol in the blood increases, its toxic effects become more pronounced. With the increase of drunken behavior, and largely based on moral, religious and health reasons, the first half of the 20th century saw periods of prohibition of alcoholic beverages in several countries. Only when a television news magazine reported in 1991 the phenomenon that has come to be known as the French-paradox did popular thinking of wine as medicine rather than toxin begin to return. Typically, the diet of people in Southern France includes a very high proportion of cheese, butter, eggs, organ meats, and other fatty and cholesterol-laden foods: these would seem to promote heart disease, but the rate there was discovered to be much lower than in most countries. It has been suggested that regular consumption of red wine may explain this paradox4,5, however these heart-healthy benefits are yet to be fully understood.

The unique cardio-protective properties of wine may lie in its phenolic richness. This group of several hundred compounds such as poly-phenols, flavonoids, quercetin and especially resveratrol, to name a few that have gotten attention, affect the taste, color and mouth-feel of the wine. These bio-active substances also confer anti-oxidant effects, increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol), prevent platelets from forming clots, help protect the lining of blood vessels and thus ward off artery damage. Unlike strawberries, however, there is no single molecule with a “strawberry smell”...

Red wine, containing a fine blend of a myriad of phenolics, seems to have more heart-healthy benefits than do other types of alcohol, and key to its effect is the moderate consumption. Drinking small quantities (up to 1-2 units/day) is associated with a decreased risk of cardio-vascular disorders (including atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease), stroke, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and early death. Long-term use of larger amounts, however, causes many serious health issues including dependence, mental problems, liver failure, and increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, stroke and cancer6.

Grapes and wine not only contain a natural antidote to heart attack and cancer, but can also be effective in maintaining thinking skills with aging and slowing down cognitive decline in the elderly. Indeed, optimal brain function relies on a healthy blood flow. By preserving arteries, supporting cardiac function7, and together with the direct anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of its phenolic substances, wine may also promote cerebral circulation and protect neurons as well8. In addition, alcohol stimulates the release of the chemical acetyl-choline which influences brain function and plays a key role in memory9,10. In light of this, drinking small quantities may not only have a positive effect on cognitive functions, but several studies have also linked moderate wine consumption to lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia11-19, etc.

Although it may be the oldest remedy and prophylactic still in use, wine is not a cure-all and not everyone should drink it. There are also circumstances when no one should consume any alcohol, such as driving. When combined with certain over-the-counter or prescription drugs, for example anti-depressants, blood thinners and blood-pressure medications, wine can produce an adverse reaction. It should not be given to people with inflammations of the digestive tract, peptic ulcers, liver disease, pancreatitis, etc. In light of these, please enjoy responsibly.


  1. McGovern PE, Mirzoian A, Hall GR. Ancient Egyptian herbal wines. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2009; 106(18): 7361-7366.
  2. Magyar gyógyszerkönyv (Pharmacopoea Hungarica), IV. kiadás/editio IV. 1934; pp: 349-351. Magyar királyi állami nyomda, Budapest (Hungary).
  3. A Magyarországon forgalombahozatalra engedélyezett, törzskönyvezett gyógyszerkészítmények IV. hivatalos jegyzéke. Országos Gyógyszerész Egyesület. 1947; p: 497. Magyar állami nyomda, Budapest (Hungary).
  4. Renaud S, de Lorgeril M. Wine, alcohol, platelets, and the French paradox for coronary heart disease. Lancet 1992; 339(8808): 1523-1526.
  5. Constant J. Alcohol, ischemic heart disease, and the French paradox. Clin. Cardiol. 1997; 20(5): 420-424.
  6. O’Keefe JH, Bhatti SK, Bajwa A, DiNicolantonio JJ, Lavie CJ. Alcohol and cardiovascular health: the dose makes the poison or the remedy. Mayo Clin. Proc. 2014; 89(3): 382-393.
  7. Sung MM, Dyck JR. Therapeutic potential of resveratrol in heart failure. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 2015; 1348(1): 32-45.
  8. Collins MA, Neafsey EJ, Mukamal KJ, Gray MO, Parks DA, Das DK, Korthuis RJ. Alcohol in moderation, cardioprotection, and neuroprotection: epidemiological considerations and mechanistic studies. Alcohol Clin. Exp. Res. 2009; 33(2): 206-219.
  9. Henn C, Löffelholz K, Klein J. Stimulatory and inhibitory effects of ethanol on hippocampal acetylcholine release. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg’s Arch. Pharmacol. 1998; 357(6): 640-647.
  10. Larsson A, Engel JA. Neurochemical and behavioral studies on ethanol and nicotine interactions. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 2004; 27(8): 713-720.
  11. Solfrizzi V, Frisardi V, Seripa D, Logroscino G, Imbimbo BP, D’Onofrio G, Addante F, Sancarlo D, Cascavilla L, Pilotto A, Panza F. Mediterranean diet in predementia and dementia syndromes. Curr. Alzheimer Res. 2011; 8(5): 520-542.
  12. Panza F, Frisardi V, Seripa D, Logroscino G, Santamato A, Imbimbo BP, Scafato E, Pilotto A, Solfrizzi V. Alcohol consumption in mild cognitive impairment and dementia: harmful or neuroprotective? Int. J. Geriatr. Psychiatry 2012; 27(12): 1218-1238.
  13. Granzotto A, Zatta P. Resveratrol and Alzheimer’s disease: message in a bottle on red wine and cognition. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2014; 6: 95.
  14. Corona G, Vauzour D, Hercelin J, Williams CM, Spencer JP. Phenolic acid intake, delivered via moderate champagne wine consumption, improves spatial working memory via the modulation of hippocampal and cortical protein expression/activation. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 2013; 19(14): 1676-1689.
  15. Russo A, Palumbo M, Aliano C, Lempereur L, Scoto G, Renis M. Red wine micronutrients as protective agents in Alzheimer-like induced insult. Life Sci. 2003; 72(21): 2369-2379.
  16. Howes MJ, Simmonds MS. The role of phytochemicals as micronutrients in health and disease. Curr. Opin. Clin. Nutr. Metab. Care 2014; 17(6): 558-566.
  17. Stefani M, Rigacci S. Beneficial properties of natural phenols: highlight on protection against pathological conditions associated with amyloid aggregation. Biofactors 2014; 40(5): 482-493.
  18. Pasinetti GM. Novel role of red wine-derived polyphenols in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease dementia and brain pathology: experimental approaches and clinical implications. Planta Med. 2012; 78(15): 1614-1619.
  19. Braidy N, Jugder BE, Poljak A, Jayasena T, Mansour H, Nabavi SM, Sachdev P, Grant R. Resveratrol as a potential therapeutic candidate for the treatment and management of Alzheimer’s disease. Curr. Top. Med. Chem. 2016; 16(17): 1951-1960.

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