Resveratrol in grapes, supplements and other foods

The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than is white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol. Simply eating grapes, or drinking grape juice, has been suggested as one way to get resveratrol without drinking alcohol. Red and purple grape juices may have some of the same heart-healthy benefits of red wine.

Other foods that contain some resveratrol include peanuts, blueberries and cranberries. It's not yet known how beneficial eating grapes or other foods might be compared with drinking red wine when it comes to promoting heart health. The amount of resveratrol in food and red wine can vary widely.

Resveratrol supplements also are available. While researchers haven't found any harm in taking resveratrol supplements, most of the resveratrol in the supplements can't be absorbed by your body.

How does alcohol help the heart?

Various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just alcohol found in red wine. It's thought that alcohol:

  • Raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol
  • Reduces the formation of blood clots
  • Helps prevent artery damage caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol
  • Produces changes in blood pressure

Drink in moderation — or not at all

Red wine's potential heart-healthy benefits look promising. Those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol, including red wine, seem to have a lower risk of heart disease. However, more research is needed before we know whether red wine is better for your heart than are other forms of alcohol, such as beer or spirits.

Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems.

Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents and other problems. In addition, drinking too much alcohol regularly can cause weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), leading to symptoms of heart failure in some people. If you have heart failure or a weak heart, you should avoid alcohol completely. If you take aspirin daily, you should avoid or limit alcohol, depending on your doctor's advice. You also shouldn't drink alcohol if you're pregnant. If you have questions about the benefits and risks of alcohol, talk to your doctor about specific recommendations for you.

If you already drink red wine, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do.

A drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 5 ounces (148 mL) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 mL) of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Apr. 25, 2014 See more In-depth