Red Wine and Chocolate for the Heart? Yes, Maybe
A glass of red wine or piece of chocolate might do your heart some good. Studies have shown that both might help prevent heart disease.
But before you drink to good health, beware not to read too much into the research, said Dr. Wissam Gharib, an interventional cardiologist and director of structural heart at Mon Health Heart & Vascular Center.
“It makes for great headlines and it’s fun to talk about chocolate and wine being good for you, but much remains unknown,” Dr. Gharib said. “Studies have shown a relationship, but we should be cautious about overestimating their protective value and cautious about overindulging in either.”
International studies in the 1970s showed a connection between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Red wine, in particular, has been singled out for its antioxidant properties.
Red wine contains polyphenols, found in red and purple grape skins, which may help increase HDL or “good” cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol and inflammation.
One particular type of polyphenol – a compound called resveratrol – has been identified as playing a role in reducing risk of heart disease. But studies have been inconclusive.
In addition, it’s uncertain whether red wine is any more heart healthy than other types of alcohol, said Dr. Gharib.
“There is no consensus about red wine being superior to other alcoholic beverages,” Dr. Gharib said. “ It appears that light consumption of alcohol can help raise HDL cholesterol, but we don’t know enough to say it prevents coronary artery disease or heart attacks.”
The key is moderation – no more than 1 drink a day for women and up to 2 drinks for men.
“Drinking too much alcohol can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, liver disease, irregular heartbeat, certain cancers and stroke,” Dr. Gharib said.
The American Heart Association doesn’t recommend drinking red wine or other alcohol to reduce risk of heart disease.
Rather, the AHA suggests improving heart health through diet, exercise and controlling weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.
“The bottom line is people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol seem to have lower risk of heart disease, but no comparison studies have proven alcohol’s effect on heart disease risk,” Dr. Gharib said.
The evidence for chocolate is stronger than that for alcohol.
Cocoa beans contain a type of polyphenol called flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that have been found to reduce cell damage associated with heart disease. Flavonoids also have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve vascular health and help with clotting.
A British study that followed the health of 21,000 people found those who ate chocolate were less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t eat chocolate.
Another study in 2017 found that the participants who ate 2 to 6 servings of chocolate a week had 20% lower risk of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart failure and stroke.
While dark chocolate is seen as most beneficial because of high cocoa content, milk chocolate has also shown a benefit. But milk chocolate contains more saturated fat and sugar than dark chocolate.
Dr. Gharib suggests that to reap potential benefits of chocolate, you should consume no more than an ounce or two of dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa or more.
“Keep in mind, you don’t need chocolate to get the benefits of flavonoids,” Dr. Gharib said. “Many fruits, vegetables and other natural foods contain these chemicals.”