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Red wine has a reputation for being the healthiest alcohol-based beverage because of its relatively high percentage of antioxidants, but too much of any type of alcoholic drink is linked to numerous health problems. Limiting yourself to a serving of red wine per day can provide certain health benefits without significantly increasing the risk of alcohol toxicity.
Serving Sizes and Recommendations
Wine usually contains between 10 percent and 14 percent ethanol, depending on the distilling process and aging. As such, a serving size of wine is 5 ounces, which is more than that of spirits such as vodka, but less than beer. According to the dietary guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, health benefits are associated with moderate alcohol consumption, which is defined as up to one serving per day for women and up to two servings daily for men.
Red wine is made with the skins of dark-colored grapes, which contain a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol. Antioxidants scavenge and destroy free radicals, the harmful byproducts of biochemical reactions that damage tissues, especially arteries and organs. As such, resveratrol protects blood vessels from injury, inflammation and clogging, which is why it's linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. Red wine also contains other flavonoids that display antioxidant and mild anti-inflammatory properties.
The ethanol in red wine makes blood thinner, reducing its ability to clot, and increases circulating levels of HDL cholesterol. HDL is considered beneficial because it shuttles cholesterol out of the bloodstream and back to the liver for storage. A small study published in a 2000 edition of the journal "Circulation" suggests a link between moderate daily alcohol consumption and an increase in HDL, which is thought to lower the risk of atherosclerosis. The researchers looked at the effects of moderate daily vodka consumption over the course of four weeks in 14 healthy individuals and noticed an 18 percent increase in HDL cholesterol levels. In addition, the resveratrol found in red wine is linked to reducing blood levels of harmful LDL, which tends to liberate cholesterol from the liver into the bloodstream.
Boosting Mental Function
There is some research indicating that elderly women can boost brainpower by consuming moderate amounts of alcohol, including red wine. A study published in a 2005 edition of the вЂњNew England Journal of MedicineвЂќ concluded that women age 70 to 81 who drank one serving of ethanol per day scored better on mental function tests compared to women who didn't drink alcoholic beverages. The researchers calculated that the moderate drinkers had a 23 percent reduced risk of cognitive decline compared to nondrinkers.
Red wine is a good source of resveratrol and other antioxidants but not the best. For example, a handful of seeded red grapes contains significantly more antioxidants than a 5-ounce serving of red wine. Green tea is also a good, alcohol-free source of antioxidants. The primary downside to red wine is related to too much alcohol consumption, and the the Mayo Clinic explains that overconsumption of alcohol is closely linked to liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, gastric ulcers, heart damage, high blood pressure, depression and increased risk of suicide, stroke and certain types of cancers.