Raise a Glass! Red Wine May be Good for Your Waistline

It's long been known that drinking a glass of red wine a day can be beneficial for your heart. A new study now says that light alcohol consumption may be good for a woman's waistline.

A study published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who drank alcohol in moderation put on less weight and were less apt to become overweight compared to nondrinkers. This was true, researchers said, even after accounting for lifestyle and dietary factors that might influence a woman's weight.

The study found that red wine seemed the best at keeping weight in check, but white wine, beer and spirts also showed some benefits.

How Alcohol Helps Your Heart
Various studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol, not just red wine, benefit your heart.

"Moderate amounts of alcohol can raise your good, or HDL, cholesterol and thins your blood," said Samantha Plasner, DO, a family practitioner on staff at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County. "For a woman, that's no more than one 5-ounce glass of wine per day."

Red wine is thought to be particularly heart healthy because it contains phytochemicals, such as flavanoids and a substance called resveratrol, that act as antioxidants and prevent "free radical" molecules from causing cellular damage in the body.

Researchers believe that resveratrol may be the key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels. Studies have shown that resveratrol prevents blood clotting and plaque formation in the arteries, and may produce anti-thrombotic agents that could reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease. However, all of the studies involved animals, not people, and would require high consumption red wine a day.

Keeping You Trim 
The study followed 20,000 women who were at least 39 years old. Two-thirds said they did not drink or drank little. Twenty percent stated they consumed one drink a day, while the remainder said they drank two or three alcoholic beverages daily.

Over the 13-year period, the women who did not drink gained an average of 8 pounds compared with 3.4 pounds for those who consumed two or three drinks a day. In addition, the teetotalers had a 43 percent chance of becoming overweight, compared to 33 percent for the heavy drinkers.

Researchers said the heavy drinkers tended to be more physically active, weighed less at the outset and were more apt to be smokers. However, other factors seemed to have a stronger influence, such as the women who consumed more alcohol ate less, particularly carbohydrates.

Moderation is Key
Dr. Plasner warned that women should not rush out to buy red wine if they don't normally consume alcohol. While women are less likely than men to become alcoholics, they often require less alcohol for impairment. In addition, women are more likely than men to develop alcoholic liver disease.

"Wine can have many downsides. It elevates triglyceride levels, which increases risk for diabetes. Studies also have shown alcohol can increase estrogen levels and a woman's risk for breast cancer. Wine also can be a trigger for migraine headaches," Dr. Plasner said. "And despite some studies, alcohol contains empty calories and can lead to weight gain when consumed in excess."

"If you have questions about whether a glass of wine with dinner is best for your health, consult your doctor," she added.

Last reviewed: April 2010