February 24, 2021


Minute read

Why the Promised Benefits of Red Wine on Your Body and Brain Are Not Aging Well

You’ve read the articles and you’ve discussed it with your friends — there really are some great benefits of red wine, right? 

Still, you’re here. Which means your mother or father probably shared that ancient wisdom that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” and you figured you’d better get the real scoop on whether or not red wine really has benefits.

And that’s what I’m going to give you — the real, unvarnished truth.

Let’s begin with where the idea of wine being good for you started: grapes.

Whether you’re a wine-aficionado, like me, or just enjoy a glass here and there, you’ve probably heard that because wine is made from grapes, it has many health benefits. And being that the average bottle of wine is made from 300-900 grapes, surely that glass of vino isn’t SO bad, right?

Resveratrol: The Source of Red Wine’s Benefits 

While technically grapes carry antioxidants, they don’t have the same flavonoids that exist in berries. They do, however, have something that functions similarly: compounds named polyphenols — most specifically, one called resveratrol.

Scientific research has shown that resveratrol packs quite a punch when it comes to increasing the lifespan of worms, yeast, fruit flies, fish and mice.

The challenge is that while wine is made from grapes and, therefore, contains resveratrol, it does so at very low levels.

It’s also important to note that resveratrol exists only in the skins, so in order to know how much resveratrol is in wine, we must know both the period of time in fermentation, and how much time the grapes spend in skin-contact.

So how long do the skins remain on?

Well, the amount of wine-skin contact depends on both the preference of the winemaker and the type of wine they’re making!

For example, winemakers remove the skins almost immediately when making white and rose wines, which is the reason for their more pale, and transparent property — and why you don’t hear people talking about the benefits of white wine nearly as much. Little skin contact means much less resveratrol. 

In red wines, the skins are often left on for longer periods — usually somewhere between 3 and 100 days.

The goal of this extended skin-contact, or maceration, is to increase color intensity, palate complexity, and tannin structure, but has the added benefit of increasing resveratrol.

Although the longer the skin-contact period, the more likely the pigment – derived from anthocynanin – is to drop, as the skin re-absorbs some of the color. Think Barolos, often soaked for 60 days, can have a bit of a lighter pigment.

All Tannat Is Wine, But Not All Wine Is Tannat

Still, not all grapes — and, therefore, the wines made from those grapes — are created equally.

For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are two of the most commonly planted and produced grapes, yet are comparatively quite low on the polyphenol scale of things. In fact, they produce less than a quarter of the resveratrol goodness compared to grapes like Tannat or Sagrantino.

So, it is true that red wine has resveratrol, and that’s a good thing. But it’s also not that simple.

Part of the reason is something called bioavalibility.

The Real Benefits of Red Wine, Macerated

A recent study by the John Hopkins University School of Medicine tested 800 adults, 65 and older, with diets rich in resveratrol (not necessarily from wine).

They found that high levels of resveratrol had zero link to lower rates of heart disease, blood pressure or cancer. They further found that unlike in rats, yeast or other creatures who showed a positive relationship, this lack of impact was due to our biologiocal complexity, and the inability of our bodies to readily absorb it — what is called bioavailability.

Although resveratrol proved to prevent skin cancer, reduce high blood pressure, decrease insulin sensitivity, and improve brain function in mice, as humans we would need to consume somewhere between 100 and 1000 glasses of wine EACH day to reap similar benefits!

That’s a whole lot of vino!

I doubt your belly, liver, your microbiome, OR your wallet would be impressed.

As someone who loves food and wine, it pains me to say this, but the resveratrol in wine may not be quite the magic health elixir we pray it is.

Sorry, but I promised you the unvarnished truth, and there it is!

Down To The Tartrates

That said, there’s one more thing I want to make clear: a glass of wine here or there won’t kill you.

In fact, there has been some research surrounding alcohol consumption and glymphatic function, or the brain’s ability to clear itself of potential harmful debris. This research, therefore, hints at wine’s ability to — literally — clear your head.

And let’s not forget that there’s something incredibly healthy about sharing great conversation over a glass of wine.

So, are there benefits to drinking red wine? Yes, but probably not in the ways or to the degree you may have hoped. As always, whether you choose to indulge or not, the goal should be to do so mindfully by acknowledging how it affects your body and brain!

Image credit: Kate Hliznitsova

About the Author: Laura Araujo

Passionate about accessible education and evidence-based wellness, Laura founded The MAPS Institute, an educational wellness editorial and platform. Aside from her passion for research and educating, Laura is a classically trained vocalist, sound therapist, and a practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga and Restorative Yoga. She is the creator of the MAPS (Mindfulness, Activation, Purpose, and Surrender) philosophy and is in continual pursuit of helping her students and herself find balance amid the chaos around and within them. When not sifting through Nature Magazine, complaining about their paywalls, she enjoys trying new wine varietals, experimenting in the kitchen, riding her bicycle (sometimes cross-country), and spending time with her husband Charlie, cockapoo Miles, and expected baby girl, Ella.  Click here to follow the MAPS Institute on social media.



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