Nov. 6, 2012 at 8:23 AM ET
Any hardworking gal knows that kicking back with a girlfriend and a glass of red wine is a fabulous way to de-stress. The best part? Your red-wine habit also happens to come with some happy health benefits, such as protecting your ticker and even slimming your waistline. Check out these eight reasons why winding down with a glass of vino is a good call all around.
1. Lower your cholesterol
High-fiber Tempranillo red grapes—which are used to make certain red wines, like Rioja—may actually have a significant effect on cholesterol levels, according to a study from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain.
Healthy study participants who consumed the same grape supplement found in red wine saw their LDL, or "bad cholesterol," levels decrease by 9% among healthy. Participants with high cholesterol experienced a drop of 12%. What's the big deal? Excess LDL ends up getting deposited in arterial walls and forming plaque, which causes arteries to stiffen and blood pressure to rise, ultimately leading to heart attacks, says Arthur Agatson, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami and author of The South Beach Heart Program.
2. Protect your heart
On top of lowering bad cholesterol, polyphenols—the antioxidants in red wine—can help keep blood vessels flexible and reduce the risk of unwanted clotting, says John Folts, PhD, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and nutrition at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
"They're nearly as effective as aspirin," says Folts. But be careful: Chronic heavy drinking damages the heart, so, as with most things, moderation is key.
3. Control blood sugar
The skin of red grapes—a rich source of red wine's natural compound resveratrol—may actually help diabetics regulate their blood sugar, finds recent research published in the journal Nutrition. Study participants who took a 250 mg resveratrol supplement once a day for three months had lower blood glucose levels than those who didn't take the pill. Plus, resveratrol-takers also had significant decreases in total cholesterol and systolic blood pressure. Researchers suspect that resveratrol may help stimulate insulin secretion or activate a protein that helps regulate glucose and insulin sensitivity.
4. Boost your brain
Resveratrol may also be the key to keeping your memory sharp, says Philippe Marambaud, PhD, a senior research scientist at New York's Litwin-Zucker Research Center for the Study of Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders. The compound has been shown to hamper the formation of beta-amyloid protein, a key ingredient in the plaque found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. Marambaud suggests flexing your noodle by doing crossword puzzles and brain teasers for an hour then cooling down with a glass of wine.
5. Fight off a cold
If you hate getting sick (and who doesn't?), the antioxidants in red wine may help keep you healthy. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that among 4,000 faculty members at five Spanish universities, those who drank more than 14 weekly glasses of wine for a year were 40% less likely to come down with a common cold. Why? According to the National Institutes of Health, antioxidants are believed to fight infection and protect cells against the effects of free radicals, which may play role in cancer and other diseases.
Another antioxidant boost? They may also lower sex hormone levels to protect against breast cancer, says a study from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
6. Stop cancer
According to researchers at the University of Virginia, the resveratrol you get from drinking one glass of red wine three or four times a week may be enough to starve any nascent cancer cells. The scientists dosed human cancer cells with resveratrol and found that the compound inhibited the key action of a cancer-feeding protein.
7. Get slim
Clearly, resveratrol is a bit of a limelight hog when it comes to the healthful compounds in vino. But research in the Journal of Biological Chemistry suggests piceatannol, the chemical compound our bodies convert from resveratrol, deserves some credit. This compound was shown to actually prevent the growth of fat cells in a series of lab tests. How? Researchers say that piceatannol binds to the insulin receptors of fat cells, essentially blocking the pathways necessary for immature fat cells to mature and grow.
8. Jazz up dinner
Who said your red wine consumption had to be limited to the glass? You can include the drink in your dinner, either as a sauce or complimentary ingredient, and still reap its benefits.
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