Despite endless rounds of studies and tests, it seems no one has quite figured out if red wine is good or bad for our health.
But one cardiologist made up his mind a long time ago – and has been doling out glasses of red to his patients for the past ten years.
Dr William McCrea is convinced that the drink helps prevent heart attacks and strokes and is often found wheeling a trolley of wine on his rounds.
The consultant prescribes the drink to patients in the cardiology ward like he would any other medicine, with precise measures to be taken at regular intervals. He says their good results support the theory that drinking a small amount every day can be beneficial.
Dr McCrea began to hand out wine after discovering that the French suffer from far fewer heart attacks, despite their fatty diets and higher smoking rates.
He believes the antioxidant properties of red wine reduce the risk of second heart attacks by half – and the risk of stroke by 20 per cent.
The cardiologist has now recommended two 125ml glasses a day to around 10,000 patients at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, Wiltshire. And he insists that young wines in screw-top bottles – which are usually the cheapest – are the healthiest varieties.
Fortunately his local supermarkets usually stock enough of his recommended tipple, a Montes Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon which costs around £7 a bottle.
Dr McCrea, 58, explained: ‘The French consume twice the amount of fat we do, smoke more, and they don’t do any more exercise than us, but their rate of deaths from heart attacks is half of ours. What’s the difference? They drink red wine like we drink tea.
‘Also the wine cheers patients up and focuses them on their recovery by relaxing them during a very tense period. Hardly any of my patients who have a heart attack who go on to have red wine ever come back into the hospital again, which is unusual.
‘I’ve given it to 10,000 patients and the chances of a second heart attack have been reduced by around 50 per cent.’
The skins of certain red wine grapes, which are used in the fermenting process, are particularly rich in antioxidants.
One antioxidant called resveratrol is particularly good at mopping up chemicals responsible for causing blood clots, the primary cause of heart disease.
This prevents clots from developing inside the arteries, raising levels of good cholesterol and causing the arteries to dilate.
Dr McCrea recommends young red wines with the highest antioxidant concentrations, which tend to come from high altitudes. However white wine does not have the same benefit as the healthy chemicals found in the grape skins are discarded during its manufacture.
Speaking from his home in Swindon, he said: ‘Initially people tend to be a bit surprised by my approach. But I find that quite apart from the medicinal effects, the wine is a good distraction.
‘When somebody has a heart attack it’s a shock, people are alarmed and anxious so the red wine also helps to relax them and reduce stress.