Overhead of a glass of red wine with red grapes and a cork in the background

Health benefits and concerns of red wine

The double-edged glass

Story by Rachel Parrott

For centuries red wine has been a staple at dinner tables and a highlight in toasts across cultures. Celebrated not just for its rich flavors and social allure, red wine also carries a reputation for health benefits, attributed to its unique components. However, this double-edged glass holds more than just antioxidants; it brings its share of health concerns, especially when consumed in excess. If you are a nondrinker, health experts do not recommend that you start drinking alcohol. But if you enjoy alcohol in moderation, red wine is worth considering.

The whole grape advantage 

Red wine’s unique position as the most health-beneficial alcoholic beverage is largely attributed to its production process, which includes the whole grape — skin and all. The grape skin, rich in antioxidants, imparts red wine with higher antioxidant levels, compared to white wine. Among these antioxidants, polyphenols like resveratrol stand out, possibly offering protection against various diseases, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and more. When choosing between alcoholic options, red wine emerges as a comparatively healthier choice.

Food rich in resveratrol with structural chemical formula of resveratrol. Grapes, plum, dark chocolate, blueberry, red currant, pistachios, peanuts as natural sources of resveratrol and antioxidants.

Moderation is key

While moderate consumption of red wine — about one to two glasses daily — is linked to reduced risk of several health issues, it’s crucial to recognize that excessive drinking can negate these benefits and pose significant health risks. It’s also important to highlight that the benefits associated with resveratrol are not exclusive to red wine. This compound, known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, can also be found in a variety of other foods, such as grapes, berries, peanuts and dark chocolate. This offers a beneficial alternative for those who are either not inclined to consume alcoholic beverages or who are advised against it due to health reasons or medication interactions. 

The rise of non-alcoholic elixirs

As health-conscious trends gain momentum, the landscape of non-alcoholic beverages is undergoing a transformation, with elixirs emerging as a popular choice. Unlike mocktails that replicate traditional cocktails sans alcohol, elixirs are designed to enhance physical well-being, incorporating superfoods and adaptogens to combat stress, anxiety and fatigue. This shift reflects a growing preference for wellness-aligned, hangover-free options that contribute to improved sleep and overall health.

Two glasses of red wine with a bottle on a wooden barrel

Organic wines: A healthier alternative?

The debate around organic wines also merits attention. Organic winemaking, free from toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, results in grapes with robust skins and higher antioxidant levels. Generally, organic wines have less sugar and lack certain additives, potentially reducing the likelihood of headaches. However, the evidence supporting these benefits is not conclusive. Personal experimentation, such as starting with small amounts and observing reactions, can be a practical approach to understanding individual tolerance and avoiding negative effects like headaches and hangovers.

Tannin blend in a glass of old wine. Wine structure.

Understanding red wine headaches

Red wine is often associated with headaches. Theories suggest that histamines and tannins present in grape skins, used in red wine fermentation, might trigger headaches. Additionally, the interaction of alcohol with certain enzymes could contribute to these headaches. Here are some tips on how to cure or prevent red wine headaches:

Stay hydrated: Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you lose fluids. This dehydration can lead to headaches. To counteract this, drink plenty of water before, during and after your wine consumption. A good rule is to have a glass of water for every glass of wine.

Eat before you drink: Never drink wine on an empty stomach. Eating food before or while you drink can slow the absorption of alcohol and reduce the severity of hangovers, including headaches.

Limit your intake: The simplest way to avoid a red wine headache is to limit how much you drink. Stick to one or two glasses, and be mindful of the alcohol content in the wine you’re choosing.

Choose low-tannin wines: Some people are sensitive to tannins, compounds found in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. Tannins are more prevalent in red wines, and this sensitivity can trigger headaches. Opt for low-tannin red wines like Pinot Noir or Merlot.

Take an antihistamine: If you’re prone to allergies and think histamines might be the cause of your wine headaches, try taking a non-drowsy antihistamine before drinking wine. Just be sure to consult with a healthcare provider before doing so.

Magnesium may help: Some studies suggest that magnesium can help prevent headaches, including those caused by alcohol. Consider incorporating magnesium-rich foods into your diet, or talk to your doctor about magnesium supplements.

Get enough rest: Make sure you’re well rested before enjoying wine. Fatigue can make you more susceptible to headaches.

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