Do Flavonoids in Red Wine Help You Live Longer?

Exploring the Link Between Red Wine and Longevity

waiter pouring red wine
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We'd all like an elixir that makes us live a long, healthy life. And if that elixir were red wine...all the better! However (of course there's a however), although red wine does have a lot of potential health benefits, it's far from being a cure all. And should still be consumed with caution. Here's what we know about red wine and longevity:

The French Paradox

In an effort to understand the 'French Paradox' (why French people can indulge in fatty foods but not develop heart disease) red wine came into focus in 1991 on an episode of '60 Minutes.' Since then, scientists have been feeding components of red wine to mice and other animals in an attempt to understand the full health benefits.

Resveratrol: The Important Flavonoid in Red Wine

Red wine is high in flavonoids, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent certain molecules, known as free radicals, from damaging cells. One of the most studied flavonoids is resveratrol, which is found in grape skins and seeds. It's also found in some other plant foods, including cranberries, mulberries, lingonberries, peanuts and pistachios. 

Research has credited resveratrol with possible protective effects against a variety of diseases, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, it's been linked to longevity.

What is Resveratrol's Role in Longevity? 

Resveratrol can act on several parts of your body to improve longevity:

  1. It activates the longevity-related protein sirtuin 1 (SIRT1)
  2. It helps to improve insulin sensitivity
  3. It improves mitochondria function--mitochrondrial dysfunction plays a role in aging

Red Wine vs. Calorie Restriction

Studies have shown that calorie restriction can play a role in longevity.

In part, that's because calorie restriction can activate nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which in turn can spur the "longevity genes" SIRT1 and SIRT2. Resveratrol seems to act along the same pathways to mimic the effect of caloric restriction on your cells (or at least in the cells and lifespans of yeast, fruit flies and mice).

How much should I drink?

If you drink (wine or any other alcohol), you should do so moderately to get health benefits from it. Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink a day for women; two for men. If you don't currently drink alcohol, don't start. If you drink more than the recommendations for "moderate" drinking, those health benefits get canceled out by health risks. That being said, the dose of resveratrol used in studies far exceeds the amount of resveratrol you'd get in a glass of wine.

Should You Take Resveratrol Supplements?

If you don't drink wine, you might be wondering if you should be taking resveratrol supplements. As a rule, it's generally better to get polyphenols directly from the source (in this case, if not from wine, then from peanuts, red grapes and blueberries). Not only is it more enjoyable to get your nutrients from food than from pills, it's also likely to deliver the nutrients in a complete package.

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