Clink! That’s the sound that you’re bound to hear throughout the rest of this holiday season—the sound of family members and friends at parties filling up their glasses with red wine and saying “Cheers!” and “Happy New Year!”

Drinking red wine while celebrating is a tradition that can offer certain health benefits—when done in moderation, of course. If you don’t already drink, it’s best not to start. And if you do, it’s important to limit your consumption to one alcoholic beverage per day if you’re a woman and two alcoholic beverages per day if you’re a man. By the way, “one” drink means a 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5-ounces of an 80-proof spirit, or 1 ounce of a 100-proof spirit.

Moderation is key, because too much alcohol can lead to serious health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, alcoholism, breast cancer, liver damage, suicide, accidents, cardiomyopathy (a weak heart muscle), cardiac arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat), and sudden cardiac death. It can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome and birth defects in a baby if the drinker is pregnant. There is also an increased risk for stomach problems, such as stomach bleeding, if you regularly drink alcohol while taking aspirin.

Sipping on red wine in small amounts, however, has been associated with better cardiovascular health by many studies. For instance, one meta-analysis in Circulation found that, after reviewing 13 studies that included over 209,000 participants, red wine reduced the risk of atherosclerotic disease (such as heart attack and stroke) by 32%, compared with beer, which lowered the risk by 22%.

Researchers say this may be due to antioxidants called flavanoids that are found in red wine, as well as a polyphenol called resveratrol. These substances may help by raising HDL “good” cholesterol, lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol, preventing damage to blood vessels, and reducing clotting.

Another study—published in Naturetouts the epigenetic effects of red wine. Researchers found that resveratrol switched on a gene called PARP-1, which helps regulate stress response and DNA repair, and influences aging. This triggered other genes to turn “on,” such as FOX03A and SIRT6, which help you live longer, and p53, a gene that helps suppress tumors.

In fact, red wine in moderation is often considered part of a healthy Mediterranean Diet, along with fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and a minimal amount of meat and processed foods. Just look at all those healthy Southern Europeans, like the Greeks and Italians: They must be doing something right!

So you don’t have to feel guilty if you indulge in a glass of Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon this season. And if alcohol isn’t your thing, snack on red grapes or guzzle some red grape juice, because those non-alcoholic goodies also contain good-for-you flavanoids and resveratrol.

References:
  1. “Alcohol and Heart Health” from the American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Alcohol-and-Heart-Health_UCM_305173_Article.jsp#
  1. “A Glass of Red Wine a Day Keeps the Doctor Away” from the Yale-New Haven Hospital: http://www.ynhh.org/about-us/red_wine.aspx
  1. “Red Wine and Resveratrol: Good For Your Heart?” from the Mayo Clinic” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/red-wine/art-20048281?pg=1
  1. “What is the Mediterranean Diet? What are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?” from Medical News Today: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/149090.php
  1. Szmitko P, Verma S. Red Wine and Your Heart, Circulation, 2005.
  1. Sajish M, Schimmel P. A human tRNA synthetase is a potent PARP1-activating effector target for resveratrol, Nature, 2014.
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