In 1991, the television program 60 minutes aired a report called The French Paradox. The program explored the heart attack rates of daily moderate wine drinkers in southern France; their rate is one of the lowest in the world, and their food among the unhealthiest. One of the most studied antioxidants in red wine is resveratrol, a compound found in the seeds and skins of grapes. Red wine has a high concentration of resveratrol because the skins and seeds ferment in the grapes' juices during the red wine-making process. This prolonged contact during fermentation produces significant levels of resveratrol in the finished red wine.
Resveratrol is a type of polyphenol called a phytoalexin, a class of compounds produced as part of a plant's defense system against disease. It is produced in the plant in response to an invading fungus, stress, injury, infection, or ultraviolet irradiation. Red wine contains high levels of resveratrol, as do grapes, raspberries, peanuts, and other plants.
Beliefs in the benefits of red wine got a boost in 2006 when Harvard Medical School researchers found that resveratrol made mice live longer, more active lives, even if the mice made pigs of themselves. The study, reported in the journal Nature, showed that with daily doses of resveratrol, middle-aged mice on an unhealthy, fat-heavy food regimen remained as healthy, or even healthier, than those eating much less fat.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, people who drink in moderation are different from non-drinkers or heavy drinkers in ways that could influence health and disease. Part of a national 1985 health interview survey showed that moderate drinkers were more likely than non-drinkers or heavy drinkers to be at a healthy weight, to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and to exercise regularly.
The definition of moderate drinking is something of a balancing act. Moderate drinking sits at the point at which the health benefits of alcohol clearly outweigh the risks. The latest consensus places this point at one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women - moderation seems to be the key.