There is both hope and hype in the notion that wine is good for your health. From the French Paradox to the Mediterranean Diet and the latest science of aging, let’s get to grips with the debate on wine and health.

If well being is the sum of its parts, understanding the health benefits of wine calls for a holistic perspective.

Wine's health benefits what are they really?

Wine's health benefits what are they really?

Are the health benefits of wine negated because of the alcohol?

After a short review of wine’s long medical history and more recent scientific trends, let’s explore wine’s biological and psychosocial benefits.


A Brief History of “Enotherapy”

The relationship between wine and health goes way back. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Sumerian tablets from 2,200 BCE document wine as the world’s oldest human-made medicine.

Hippocrates lecturing his students. Photo courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

Hippocrates lecturing his students. Photo courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

Hippocrates lecturing his students. Photo courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

From ancient Greece and Rome through the Middle Ages, people used wine for everything. It killed bacteria in drinking water, acted as a digestive aid, cleaned wounds, relieved pain, and cured lethargy.

Hippocrates, the “father of clinical and molecular medicine,” championed the health benefits of wine, as did Babylonian kings, Persian doctors and Catholic monastics. The Jewish Talmud plainly states:

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“Wine is the foremost of all medicines: wherever wine is lacking, medicines become necessary.” – Jewish Talmud

By the 19th and 20th centuries, however, medical research and changing attitudes towards alcohol called this status into question.

Yet since the early 1990s, scientific research on the health benefits of wine has proliferated. Much of this inspired the paradoxically healthy, wine drinking Mediterraneans.


Mediterranean Lessons on Wine and Health

The diet and lifestyle of the Mediterranean have long been renowned as a beacon of health. Based on research by scientist Serge Renaud, a 1991 episode of 60 Minutes put the French Paradox on the map.

A wine dinner with cheese, meat, and honey. Photo by Lana Abie.

A wine dinner with cheese, meat, and honey. Photo by Lana Abie.

If this is healthy eating, I’m gonna live forever. Photo by L. Abie.

Wine in the French Paradox Diet

Renaud observed a paradoxical relationship between the seemingly not-so-healthy diet of his countrymen. High fat, high dairy, and daily wine, despite low rates of coronary heart disease. Se la vie!

France: that wine-loving, baguette and fromage-eating nation surpasses many countries in average life expectancy. Not without controversy, French vitality has been attributed to the cultural value of drinking 2-3 glasses of wine a day.

The longest living people in France reside in the Gers region of the southwest. Here, high saturated foods like foie gras, sausage, duck fat for cooking, cassoulet, and cheese are standard fare.

Local, sun-kissed reds such as Madiran, Cahors, and Bergerac wash down all this glorious fat.

These wines’ tannins not only scrape fat from the palate and digestive tract but are rich in heart-healthy procyanidins.

A view of Santorini, Greece with dinner and wine. Photo by Kamala Saraswathi

A view of Santorini, Greece with dinner and wine. Photo by Kamala Saraswathi

The Mediterranean diet: View not included. Photo by K. Saraswathi.

Wine in the Mediterranean Diet

The next biggest thing since the French Paradox has been the Mediterranean diet.

Recognized for its health-promoting effects, the Mediterranean diet blends moderate consumption of alcohol (mostly red wine) with less meat and a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, seeds, and olive oil.

The proof of concept is some of the longest-lived people on earth.

Diet in a strictly biological sense, however, is only part of the story. Along with its cuisine, wine is an intrinsic aspect of the culture, history, and lifestyle of the Mediterranean.

Before exploring the psychosocial benefits of wine further, let’s look at its biological health properties.


Hands holding a bunch of red grapes. Photo by M. Petric.