In the English language, there are few phrases that get people more excited than “red wine is good for you.” The idea that drinking alcohol may have health benefits of any kind feels like a cosmic loophole, a rare cheat in the universe that lets you have your wine and drink it too. Moderate drinking of red wine in particular has been linked to everything from helping keep your heart healthy to potentially offering anti-aging properties. Adding to these potential benefits, a mounting body of scientific evidence is suggesting red wine may be good for your gut health, too.
If you’re wondering why you should care about your gut health in the first place, here’s a quick refresher: healthy gut bacteria plays a role in many bodily functions, ranging from helping you metabolize nutrients from food, to possibly aiding in the prevention and even treatment of some diseases, according to Harvard Health. The bacteria living in your gut, otherwise known as gut microbiota, is connected to your overall physical and mental health, and what you consume can “make or break” your gut health, Joyce Faraj, PhD, RDN, CDN, a nutritionist at Mountainside Treatment Center, tells Bustle.
“Disturbances of gut bacteria are associated with a host of chronic degenerative conditions including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer,” Dr. David Perlmutter, neurologist and author, tells Bustle.
So where does red wine come in? Faraj explains that red wine is rich in polyphenols, a type of chemical rich in plants. In people who drink red wine, some studies have found that the polyphenols were associated with changing and diversifying the types of bacteria found in the gut. “In addition to improved gut health, those who consumed the polyphenols found in red wine ... also had improved blood pressure and lower inflammation compared to baseline or to those who consumed gin (which contained alcohol but no polyphenols),” Faraj says. She adds that these polyphenols also exist in dark chocolate, berries, red onions, artichokes, and tea — and may offer similar benefits.
But while some studies suggest that drinking red wine may be associated with improved digestive health, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should start drinking it with abandon. As with all alcohol, drinking in general can have long-term health risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and liver disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for those who are at risk of developing alcohol use disorder, says Faraj, even moderate drinking can be risk factor for heavy drinking or alcohol dependence.
On top of that, incorporating wine into your diet isn’t exactly the most effective way to improve your gut health. “Alcohol can disrupt the integrity of the gut microbiome and may replace the intake of real food,” says Faraj. “There is not a clear consensus as to the positive effects of red wine consumption, and the possible consequences of drinking regularly outweigh the potential benefits.”
If you do feel inclined to drink red wine because you enjoy it, Dr. Perlmutter emphasizes that moderation is key. And if you’re really trying to improve your overall gut health, Faraj recommends starting with a balanced diet rich in protein, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and healthy fats, as well as other dietary sources of polyphenols through more plant-based foods.
The bottom line: the secret to everlasting health unfortunately may not lie at the bottom of your wine glass. While the studies are promising, it’s still just an association between wine and good gut health, and more research is necessary. The risks of regular drinking also mean you’re likely better off seeking nutritional value elsewhere. But if you're looking to unwind after a long day or enjoy a nice drink with your meal, a glass every now and then probably won’t hurt.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).