Should Women Drink Wine for Their Health?
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Should Women Drink Wine for Their Health?

What's so great about red wine, and whether it reduces women's risk of heart disease or increases cancer risk.

When it comes to reducing your risk of heart disease and cancer, there aren't many easy and pleasurable methods of prevention. That might be why studies touting the health benefits of red wine consumption always get a lot of attention.

But is red wine really the toast of the town when it comes to health paybacks? The answer is yes and no. While properties in red wine do help prevent heart disease and some cancers, and reduce inflammation caused by arthritis, these benefits aren't unique to red wine.

"Red wine in small amounts has been shown to have beneficial effects," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "However, there's nothing special in red wine that you couldn't obtain in other foods that are antioxidant rich." For example, red grapes, grape juice, grape seed oil, deep green vegetables, melon, pumpkin, squash, blueberries, and peppers are just some of the other sources of antioxidants similar to the ones found in red wine.

"The antioxidants in red wine may be more concentrated than in other foods because of the fermentation process they go through," says Gerbstadt. But the concentrated levels aren't significant enough to recommend the consumption of red wine for health benefits.

There is evidence that moderate alcohol consumption, not just red wine, can raise HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol levels), according to Dr. Nieca Goldberg, MD, an American Heart Association spokesperson, an expert in women and cardiovascular disease, and the author of the book Women Are Not Small Men (Ballantine, 2003), about women and heart disease.

"But we don't tell people to start drinking to reduce heart disease because it carries other risks and concerns," she says. Drinking alcohol can have negative affects that include weight gain and addiction problems. Excessive drinking can also cause your LDL cholesterol levels to rise. Alcohol, including red wine, has also been shown to increase estrogen levels in women, and, thus there is an association between high alcohol intake and breast cancer.

For those women who favor white wine and other types of alcohol, none of those drinks have nearly the same benefits as red wine because the antioxidants are found in the skin and seeds of the grapes, which are left on for a longer period during the winemaking process. White wine is fermented without the skins of the grapes.

If you're going to drink red wine, moderation -- two to three ounces a day for women -- is crucial, according to Gerbstadt. "A small glass is enough to get the benefit. People sometimes overuse the benefits as an excuse to drink wine."

The bottom line, according to Goldberg: "If you're going to drink red wine in moderation, that's fine, but you don't have to start doing so to reduce risk of heart disease."