friends celebrating with wine

Who doesn’t enjoy a delicious glass of wine with dinner? Whether you love discovering the sophisticated nuances of vintages from around the world or just want to unwind with a glass of Two Buck Chuck after a long workday, there’s always a place for wine at the table. According to the Wine Institute, the average American drinks 2.95 gallons (almost 15 bottles) of wine a year.

Unlike other types of alcohol, wine — especially red wine — has a reputation for being good for your health when consumed in moderation. Most of these purported benefits stem from antioxidant plant chemicals called polyphenols found in wine grapes. The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, however, does not consider wine (or any other type of alcohol) a component of a healthy diet and doesn’t recommend that nondrinkers begin drinking alcohol for any reason. For those that do imbibe, the guidelines suggest keeping it to one standard drink a day for women and two for men. For wine, this means a five-ounce pour.

If you’re in the habit of drinking wine every night, there are a number of short- and long-term consequences you can expect, some good, some not so good.

Your blood pressure numbers could improve

glass of wine in a vineyard

If you feel more relaxed after a glass of vino, it’s not just the wine buzz; your body (including your blood vessels) is also relaxing on a physiological level. A 2019 study published in Circulation noted that resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in red wine, is a vasodilator. This means it causes blood vessels to enlarge, which in turn lowers blood pressure (via Mayo Clinic). And, if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, drinking wine could lower your risk for serious complications such as heart attack or stroke. A 2004 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that moderate wine drinkers with high systolic blood pressure were 23–37 percent less likely to die than individuals who were heavy wine drinkers or preferred beer.

Drinking too much and too often, however, can elevate blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, "having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily raises your blood pressure, but repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases." When heavy drinkers dial their consumption back to a moderate level, they can expect to see a decrease in their systolic pressure of about 5.5 mmHg, while their diastolic pressure will drop an average of 4 mmHg.

You may be doing your heart a favor

Heart disease is a big problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 18 million Americans have coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of approximately 655,000 Americans annually.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable ways to reduce your risk for heart disease appears to be drinking red wine. The Mayo Clinic explained that it’s the antioxidant polyphenols — particularly resveratrol — in red wine that are most likely behind red wine’s apparent heart healthiness. Resveratrol raises HDL ("good") cholesterol and lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol, protects the lining of blood vessels, and may prevent blood clots. Alcohol of any type may provide similar benefits when consumed in moderation. The Mayo Clinic cautioned, however, that studies on resveratrol have shown mixed results. This powerful antioxidant can be found in other nonalcoholic foods that don’t carry any of the risks associated with alcohol. The Mayo Clinic doesn’t recommend taking up drinking simply for the sake of heart health, and if you do drink wine, always drink in moderation.

You could reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes

Another fringe benefit of consuming antioxidant-rich red wine is a potential decrease in risk for type 2 diabetes. In a 2013 study published in Clinical Nutrition, participants consumed a standardized amount of regular red wine, red wine with the alcohol removed, and gin during four-week periods. The researchers found that although fasting blood glucose levels remained the same throughout the experiment, fasting insulin levels were significantly lower when participants consumed either the regular or dealcoholized red wine. Fasting insulin levels are a good indicator of how well the body responds to insulin’s effects. Higher fasting values indicate insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. These results suggest that it’s the polyphenol compounds in red wine, not the alcohol itself, that improve insulin sensitivity.

These results were backed up by a 2017 meta-analysis published in Food and Chemical Toxicology that found that polyphenols appear to lower diabetes risk. However, this benefit isn’t unique to red wine; the antioxidants in tea and cocoa powder also demonstrate the same positive effect. The authors cautioned that more research is needed to better understand the connection.

You could give your friendly gut bacteria a boost

If you’re not a big fan of yogurt or sauerkraut, you’ll be thrilled to hear that the polyphenols in your nightly glass of red wine could be doing just as much as these other fermented foods to support a healthy gut microbiome. According to a 2016 paper published in Current Opinions in Gastroenterology, the gut microbiome is an ecosystem of billions of microorganisms (mostly bacteria) that resides in your large intestine. It performs a number of functions, including helping to break down food, producing certain vitamins, and protecting the body against foodborne pathogens. Everyone’s gut microbiome is unique, but for optimal health it’s important that this collection of microorganisms be large and diverse.

A 2018 paper published in Food Research International found that not only can the polyphenols in grapes and red wine have a positive influence on the number and types of beneficial bacteria in our intestines, but the microbiome can also, in turn, play a role in how much of the polyphenols we consume get absorbed. A 2012 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that the polyphenols in red wine may act as a type of "prebiotic," essentially serving as food for our friendly bacteria.

You’ll protect your eyesight

Move over carrot juice, there’s a much tastier beverage option that supports eye health. The resveratrol in red wine appears to protect your peepers from age-related damage. The authors of a paper published in 2016 in Nutrients argued that because resveratrol has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it can protect the body, including the eyes, from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, in turn, has been linked to a number of age-related eye conditions, including glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration. Resveratrol also appears to prevent mitochondria dysfunction in cells and promote apoptosis (the death and clearing away of damaged or diseased cells). Additionally, it supports angiogenesis (the creation of new blood vessels) in the eye.

As with the many other benefits of resveratrol, it’s important to remember that red wine hasn’t cornered the market. Resveratrol is found in several other foods, which may provide the benefits of this polyphenol without the potential downsides of alcohol. These include red grapes, peanuts, cocoa, and some berries, including blueberries. Some of these options, such as boiled peanuts, may contain significantly more resveratrol per serving compared to wine (via the Linus Pauling Institute).

Your sex life may improve

Research suggests that wine may be a powerful love potion for both men and women. In a 2009 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers divided 798 Italian women into three groups: non-drinkers; daily moderate red wine drinkers (one to two glasses); and those who drank more than two glasses of red wine daily, drank other types of wine or alcohol daily, or only drank occasionally. Participants completed the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) questionnaire, which is a self-reported assessment of sexual behavior and satisfaction. The moderate daily red wine drinkers had the highest overall FSFI scores, as well as the highest scores related to desire and vaginal lubrication. But wine isn’t a magic bullet for female sexual health; there were no differences between the three groups when it came to scores related to sexual arousal, satisfaction, pain, and orgasm.

Red wine can also help men out in the bedroom. A 2016 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that high intake of flavonoids reduced erectile dysfunction in men under 70 by approximately 11–16 percent. While the researchers didn’t look specifically at red wine, it’s an excellent source of flavonoids.

Your risk for dementia will decrease

A glass of wine each night could keep you mentally sharp well into old age. A 2004 meta-analysis published in Biological Research concluded that light to moderate drinking (defined as one to three drinks per day) was associated with a lower risk in dementia and vascular dementia specifically. But wine is likely not unique among adult beverages when it comes to warding off cognitive decline; the paper’s authors found "no evidence that the relation between alcohol and dementia varied by type of alcoholic beverage." An article published in the British Medical Journal in 2018 confirmed that light to moderate drinkers appear less likely to get dementia than either nondrinkers or heavy drinkers but cautioned that most of the studies these findings are based on didn’t follow participants for very long and didn’t account for factors such as sex and ethnicity.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than six million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. One in three seniors will die with some form of dementia, and deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 145 percent since 2000.

You’re less likely to be depressed

Regularly drinking moderate amounts of wine could keep the blues at bay, but the connection between alcohol and mental health is complex. In a 2013 study published in BMC Medicine, researchers followed 5,505 men and women at high risk for depression for up to seven years. They found that those who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol were less likely to be diagnosed with depression, and those who drank two to seven glasses of wine a week were the best-off.

But, as WebMD pointed out, alcohol and depression often go hand in hand. Approximately one-third of those with major depression also have an alcohol use problem. Depressed teens and women are especially likely to abuse alcohol. While these individuals may drink as a way to try to escape the pain and sadness they’re feeling, alcohol only worsens depression symptoms. Heavy drinking also increases your risk for depression. Those with certain genetic factors may be particularly susceptible to both alcohol abuse and depression.

If you’re struggling with symptoms of depression or substance abuse, SAMHSA’s national helpline is available 24/7/365 to provide assistance.

Your immune system may or may not take a hit

The jury’s still out on whether your nightly glass of wine is helping or hurting your immune system. A 2015 article published in Alcohol Research noted that alcohol can have a profound and often negative effect on the immune system. These impacts on immune function can happen with both chronic alcohol use and acute episodes of binge drinking. It appears that the immune system may also play a role in how alcohol affects the liver and other body systems long-term.

Wine, however, may be a bit of a special case. A paper published in 2000 in The Journal of Nutrition found that although alcohol reduced the number of certain immune cells circulating in the blood, the antioxidant phytochemicals in wine helped counteract the negative effects of alcohol on immune function. But a 2004 paper published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that moderate alcohol consumption had no impact on immune health. Interestingly, they noted that the polyphenols in nonalcoholic beverages, such as red grape juice or dealcoholized red wine, also had no impact on immunity.

It’s unclear whether your cancer risk will increase or decrease

Perhaps one of the biggest controversies surrounding wine is its impact on cancer risk. The National Cancer Institute considers alcohol a carcinogen and noted that "there is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause several types of cancer." The link between alcohol and cancer is strongest for liver cancer, head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. While alcohol has been linked to decreased risk for cancer of the kidneys and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the NCI cautions that the risks of alcohol outweigh any protective benefits against these conditions. When it comes to red wine specifically, although the NCI acknowledged that many studies have investigated whether the antioxidant resveratrol can decrease cancer risk, no association has been found for either prostate or colorectal cancer.

But a 2014 article published in Science Daily suggested that the resveratrol in red wine may in fact reduce the risk for head and neck cancer. Alcohol causes damage to cells, and as cellular damage builds up with frequent or heavy drinking, the chances that one of those damaged cells will become cancerous increases. As an antioxidant, resveratrol helps the body destroy these alcohol-damaged cells before they can become cancerous.

You might get a stuffy nose

If drinking wine (or, really, any alcohol) leaves you feeling congested, you may be sensitive to histamine. According to Healthline, histamine is a chemical produced by the body and found in some foods. It triggers the release of stomach acid to aid digestion and is part of the body’s immune response after an injury or allergic reaction. The enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO) breaks down histamine, but some people either have a DAO deficiency or have an imbalance in their gut bacteria that leads to a buildup of more histamine than their DAO levels can handle. These individuals are histamine intolerant and, when histamine levels get too high, it can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms, including nasal congestion and sinus problems. Other symptoms include headaches and migraines, fatigue, nausea, and digestive issues. Severe cases of histamine intolerance can lead to dizziness, difficulty regulating body temperature, irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure.

According to a 2007 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one percent of the population is histamine intolerant. Unfortunately for wine lovers, alcohol is both high in histamine and blocks the action of DAO (via Histamine Intolerance Awareness).

You may get headaches

Does drinking wine — especially reds — give you a headache? If so, you’re not alone. According to Harvard Health Publishing, wine-induced headaches are relatively common, but no one knows exactly why they happen. One popular theory is that it’s the sulfites used as preservatives in some wines that bring on headaches. But sulfites are found in many other foods (such as bacon) and are more likely to cause breathing issues than headaches.

Another possible cause is histamine. Red wine is particularly high in histamine because it is made from the entire grape, including the histamine-rich skin. For histamine intolerant individuals who lack the enzyme that helps break down this natural substance, drinking wine can cause histamine to accumulate in the blood. Alcohol also inhibits the breakdown of histamine, so red wine is a double whammy. Histamine causes blood vessels to enlarge, and the sudden change in blood flow to the brain can bring on a headache. Tannins in red wine have also been blamed for headaches. Although tannins are a group of plant chemicals with antioxidant properties, they also trigger the release of serotonin, which, at high levels, can cause headaches.

You’ll look older

You might feel younger and more carefree after a glass or two of wine, but you won’t look it. Drinking alcohol of any type, including wine, can make you look older in a variety of ways. It can dehydrate you, making skin appear dry and scaly and making wrinkles more prominent. It can also prevent absorption of important skin-boosting micronutrients like vitamin A. Alcohol enlarges blood vessels, which can give your skin a blotchy appearance. Excessive alcohol intake can cause liver damage, which in turn may lead to spider telangiectasia, red spider web-like lesions under the skin (via RIA Health).

Having pearly white teeth also contributes to a youthful appearance. It’s well-known that red wine stains teeth, but if you’ve switched to whites in order to save your smile, you may actually be making things worse. A 2009 study published in Nutrition Research found that white wine caused a greater release of calcium from teeth than red wine, meaning it had more potential to erode tooth enamel. Thinner tooth enamel makes teeth appear yellow because it’s easier to see the pigmented dentin underneath. It’s important to note, however, that this study involved soaking teeth in alcohol for 24 hours, which isn’t exactly how people enjoy their vino.

You’re at increased risk for liver disease

While wine contains plant compounds that may have some real health benefits, the bottom line is that wine is still alcohol, and there’s plenty of research that indicates that even a small amount of alcohol can wreak havoc on your liver.

According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, drinking alcohol can lead to a number of liver issues. Alcoholic hepatitis results in inflammation of the liver, which, over time, can lead to cirrhosis (permanent damage to the liver cells). Women appear to be more susceptible than men to alcohol-induced liver damage. And, because everyone’s sensitivity to alcohol is different, there’s no "one size fits all" recommendation when it comes to how much alcohol is safe to drink on a daily or weekly basis.

It’s also important to remember that the polyphenols in wine that give it its reputation as a "healthy" adult beverage are also found in many nonalcoholic options. These include cocoa powder, berries, green and black tea, nuts, and beans (via Healthline). In fact, ounce for ounce, many of these foods contain more polyphenols than red wine. Getting these powerful antioxidants sans alcohol is the safest bet for your liver.