Thursday, January 17, 2013

Spotlight: Wine, Benefits & Risks


Wine can be both beneficial and risky to women's health.
Wine can be both beneficial and risky to women's health.
Image: Shutterstock
Like many people, I have a soft spot for wine. It’s one of those flavors that took some time to grow on me, and now that it has, there’s not anything quite like it. Of course, I don’t like every wine I taste; I prefer reds that are smooth yet robust, and I like my whites to be slightly sweet and fruity.

Nowhere close to being an expert on the matter, I found myself wondering what exactly the benefits of drinking wine were and where they cut off. For years, I’ve been aware of the fact that a glass of red wine each night can be beneficial. But I’ve never looked into the matter further than that. I’ve never been a big drinker, and I always just assumed I didn’t need to worry about any of those problems.

I still find myself in a position where I’m not overly concerned about my alcohol consumption, but every once in a while I decide that instead of one glass of wine, I’d like to have two—and even rarer yet, three. What then? At what point do the benefits cease and the risks begin?

Wine provides valuable antioxidants.
Wine provides valuable antioxidants.
Image: Shutterstock
For men, there are benefits to having up to two drinks per day. For women, benefits last up to one drink. What’s in a drink? Twelve ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of red or white wine, or 1.5 ounces (one shot) of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Alcohol in general can raise the “good” cholesterol (HDL) in our bodies and thin our blood. Wine also contains phytochemicals that act as antioxidants and help prevent cellular damage in our bodies. This can prevent blood clotting, plaque formation, and potentially promotes cardiovascular health and helps fight cancer. Both red and white wine contain these non-alcoholic phytochemicals, but red has a much greater concentration compared to white.

However, it’s not all good with wine. Sometimes the benefits aren’t as great as the risks and consequences. Some conditions are worsened by wine, which is why physicians sometimes recommend that patients not drink alcohol. Wine can raise triglyceride levels, which can be a problem for those who already have high levels—such as diabetics. Wine is also full of empty calories and can prompt weight gain, especially if it’s enjoyed in excess.

My personal problem with drinking wine is that it worsens my migraines. It doesn’t always happen, which is why I sometimes enjoy a glass or two. But other times, it sets off a headache—which can last for hours or even days at a time. This is due to the sulfites contained in wine (red more than white).

Alcohol can raise estrogen levels.
Image: Susan G. Komen
Some alcohol can also raise estrogen levels and can possibly increase tumor progression for women with estrogen positive breast cancer. Even staying under the limit of one drink per day could increase the risk for breast cancer. At this point, researchers still say the health benefits outweigh the risks for just one drink—but past that, the risk goes up with every drink. I think I’ll resist the urge for that second drink from now on.
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