Wine, Whiskey, Resveratrol

Health Aspects of Alcohol

By —— Bio and Archives--February 14, 2018

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Health Aspects of Alcohol
There are a lot of mixed messages about alcohol. On the one hand, moderate amounts have been linked to health benefits. On the other hand, it is addictive and highly toxic when we drink too much of it.

The truth is that the health effects of alcohol are actually quite complex. They vary between individuals and depend on the amount consumed and the type of alcoholic beverage. 1

Two recent articles list numerous benefits (10 in one article, 16 in the other).

Carissa Stanz says this about health effects of alcohol: “It contains antioxidants, it boosts the immune system, it increases bone density, it reduces the risk of stroke, it reduces the risk of heart disease, it can lower cholesterol, it reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, it reduces the risk of cancer, it improves cognitive function and it promotes longevity.” 2

Yvette Brazier adds these potential benefits: “Gut microbiome and cardiovascular aids, raising levels of omega-3 fatty acids, minimizing brain damage after stroke, preventing vision loss, improving lung function and preventing lung cancer, preventing dementia, reducing risk of depression, protecting from severe sunburn, preventing liver disease, preventing cavities and treating acne.” 3

Wow! With all these benefits about all that is missing is guaranteed freedom from death! Almost makes one want to immediately partake of some alcoholic elixir.

What’s the right amount?

The United States Dietary guidelines 2015 to 2020 define moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, and only by adults of drinking age.  A drink is defined as:4

  • 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer
  • 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine
  • 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits


Aside from its flavor and capacity to help people relax, wine has gained something of a reputation as a ‘healthy’ alcohol with researchers noting associations between red wine and drinking in France and lower incidence of heart disease. 5

However, wine drinking is also known to increase risks of serious health issues, including liver cirrhosis, sudden cardiac death, and cardiac rhythm disorders. Excessive consumption and chronic misuse of alcohol are risk factors contributing to an increase in disease worldwide.

Red wine contains more than 500 chemical substances. One class, called polyphenols, has been widely investigated for imparting the apparent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of red wine. Alcohol and polyphenols ae thought to have several positive health impacts. One is a contribution to an increase in HDL cholesterol, or ‘good cholesterol’ and a decrease in LDL oxidation of ‘bad cholesterol.’ They also contribute to a decrease in inflammation and are thought to increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood pressure.

There is no consistent pattern when wine is compared to beer and spirits. Some report wine’s superiority in reducing the risk of mortality while other report it for beer and spirits. Others suggest there is no difference. This leads to the conclusion that alcohol and polyphenols both contribute to explaining the French paradox in addition to lifestyle factors. 5


Resveratrol, a type of natural phenol, comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than is white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol. 4

Claims are that resveratrol may boost heart health, protect against some kinds of cancer, and prevent some types of vision loss. 3 However, the benefits of resveratrol have been questioned.

Prior to 2010 resveratrol had not been tested in clinical trials. Since that time there have been some, most of which were small, short-term (a year or less) and designed to evaluate possible therapeutic effects rather than disease preventive effects. A trial to evaluate preventive effects would need to be large and lengthy and would therefore be extremely expensive. 6

Continued below...


Whiskeys contain hundreds of compounds, including fatty acids, esters, alcohols, and aldehydes, in a wide range of concentrations. The same benefits mentioned earlier in this article apply equally as well for whiskey. In the case of whiskey one can find articles mentioning 10 and 7 health benefits, respectively, 7, 8sounding much like the other previous references.

An interesting side effect of whiskey relates to some studies with ice cubes.

A research group surveyed ice cubes that are made and sold for human consumption, also known as ‘food grade’ ice, for the presence of bacteria. In the United States alone, there are 5,600,000 bags of ice sold each year. This ice is used either for direct usage, such as being placed in drinks, or indirect usage, such as to keep fish cold in the sea food counter of the grocery store.9

Ice cubes were purposely contaminated with four chosen types of bacteria and the results showed a consistent reduction in the growth of the bacteria in drinks. This is likely due to the presence of alcohol, CO2, pH, and other anti-bacterial ingredients of vodka, whiskey, peach tea, tonic water and coke.

The four bacteria grew very differently in the different solutions, all four of which could grow in vodka and peach tea.  However, only one could grow in tonic water, and two of the four in coke. Across the board, nothing grew in whiskey! 9

Juliana LeMieux sums this up well: “Is your ice going to make you sick? Probably not. But it’s good to know what could be potential sources of bacterial contamination in your home. And, the next time that you want to have a scotch, go ahead and throw it on the rocks.” 10


  1. Atli Arnarson, “Alcohol and health: the good, the bad and the ugly,” healthline.com, June 4, 2017
  2. Carissa Stanz, “The 10 health benefits of wine will inspire you to pour a hearty glass tonight,” wideopeneats.com, November 2, 2017
  3. Yvette Brazier, “Red wine: health benefits and risks,” medicalnewstoday.com, September 7, 2017
  4. “Red wine and resveratrol: good for your heart?”, Mayo Clinic, 2018
  5. Adrian Baranchuk et al., “Drinking red wine is good for you—or maybe not,” The Washington Post, December 2, 2017
  6. Melissa Q. B. McElderry, “Resveratrol—don’t buy the hype,” Quackwatch, December 11, 2014
  7. Carissa Stanz, “Pour, swirl, and savor these 10 health benefits of whiskey,” wideopeneats.com, January 19, 2018
  8. “Top 7 surprising benefits of whiskey,” Organic Facts, February 9, 2018
  9. Luca Settani et al., “Presence of pathogenic bacteria in ice cubes and evaluation of their survival in different systems,” Annals of Microbiology, November 18, 2017
  10. Juliana LeMieux, “Bacteria can live in ice cubes, but not in whiskey,” acsh.org, December 1, 2017



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Jack Dini -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jack Dini is author of Challenging Environmental Mythology.  He has also written for American Council on Science and Health, Environment & Climate News, and Hawaii Reporter.

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