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Quick Dose: Is Red Wine Healthy or Harmful?

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Before you get ready to toast to good health, it might be time to revisit the debate about whether red wine offers any benefit to you and your heart.

Red wine contains antioxidants known as polyphenols, particularly flavonoids like resveratrol and quercetin, which comes primarily from the skins of grapes. Polyphenols may increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and protect against cholesterol buildup. This buildup, or cholesterol plaque, can eventually block the flow of blood in the arteries. This process can result in hardened arteries (or atherosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or peripheral arterial disease.

Other benefits of polyphenol ingestion include:

  • Lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol
  • Reducing the risk of blood clots forming
  • Preventing artery damage

But before you pop that cork, be aware that drinking too much alcohol can cause increased levels of fats in the blood. It can also lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, weight gain and an increased risk for diabetes. In fact, if you have a family history of high blood pressure or stroke, it’s suggested you don’t drink alcohol at all. Instead, seek benefit-rich antioxidants through other foods, such as dark chocolate, berries, nuts and certain vegetables.

The bottom line: Although drinking red wine may benefit some people, those benefits can also be achieved through healthier behaviors, such as monitoring your weight, getting regular physical activity and choosing safer sources of antioxidants. If you do opt to indulge in a glass of wine, do so in moderation.

      - Patricia Vassallo, MD, Northwestern Medical Group, Cardiology

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