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The question

I have a glass of RED wine most nights. Is this okay?

The answer

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Wine can be relaxing and have potential health benefits when taken in moderation. The recommendation for safe drinking levels is one glass of wine a day for women and two glasses a day for men.

The decision to drink wine or any alcohol is a personal choice and will depend upon your general health, any underlying medical conditions or medications you may take and your ability to limit your consumption to just one drink. Remember that any potential benefits are dose dependent and more than one to two drinks per day can have detrimental effects upon health.

Several studies have shown that a small amount of alcohol consumption is correlated with an increase of 'good' cholesterol (high density lipoprotein - HDL) which can result in a subsequent decrease in 'bad' cholesterol (low density lipoprotein - LDL).

Wine is rich in antioxidants, which may help to protect the lining of blood vessels in the body and the heart. The best known of these antioxidants is resveratrol, which is found in grape skin and seeds.

Resveratrol's antioxidant properties have been found to repair cells and reduce inflammation, which can decrease atherosclerosis and fatty deposits which are known risk factors for heart disease and stroke. A cautionary note however: studies done on resveratrol have been conducted mainly on animals and further studies need to fully understand the true benefit in humans.

Although there are these potential positive effects of alcohol, overindulgence can negate the benefits. Drinking too much can increase the risk of high blood pressure, liver damage, heart disease, obesity, certain cancers and can increase the risk of impaired driving and accidents. Alcohol can also interact dangerously with commonly used medications, so if you take medications, use caution and check in with your doctor to make sure there are no harmful interactions.

If you have liver disease or are pregnant, avoid alcohol completely.

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For those who do not drink, there is no evidence to suggest that you should start drinking simply for the potential benefits of wine as there are other well studied lifestyle choices that improve health such as a balanced diet, smoking cessation and regular exercise.

For those who already drink a glass of wine a day, this may have good benefit for your health and in general is safe to do so in moderation.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at doctor@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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