The holidays are here. For many of us that means office parties, family gatherings, and catching up with old friends while the wine is a-flowing. Maybe you’re leaning in this year because you’ve heard the benefits of red wine include it being good for your liver…

Don’t go topping off your glass just yet. It’s not really “wine” that’s good for your liver. It’s the specific antioxidant, resveratrol, found in red wine that has hepatic benefits. Red wine may be good for liver health in the same way chocolate is good for inflammation (as in… it’s a stretch).

Resveratrol is the chemical credited, at least in part, for the “French Paradox”. That is, the fact that French people tend to live long, healthy lives despite a lifestyle that is rich in fatty food, alcohol, and smoking. Resveratrol appears to be incredibly potent in its antioxidant activities, protecting cellular health in the face of free radicals. 

While red wine is one source of this awesome antioxidant, your liver would likely prefer you get resveratrol from non-alcohol sources. Resveratrol is also found in fresh grapes, blueberries, raspberries, or as a supplement.

What is resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a naturally-occurring, non-toxic compound found in a select few plant species [1]. Its function is antioxidant and anti-pathogenic, protecting the health of the plant [1]. 

When human cells absorb resveratrol, it offers the same properties. These activities translate to cardioprotective benefits, and general support for healthy aging [1,2]. 

Another well-studied role for resveratrol is its support of healthy liver function. In 2017, a meta-analysis of 9,268 resveratrol research studies reported that 742 of those had focused specifically on resveratrol’s role in liver health [1]. 

A challenge for the supplement industry has been the high solubility and low bioavailability of resveratrol [2]. It breaks down really quickly upon ingestion. By the time it gets from your mouth to the gut, very little is actually left to be absorbed into the circulation, compared to the amount you swallowed. 

To address this challenge, Metabolic Maintenance has formulated resveratrol with piperine (a compound from black pepper). Piperine has been proven to slow the breakdown, increase the absorption, and increase levels of resveratrol in the circulation (dose efficiency) [3].

What does resveratrol do for the liver?

Fat and the Liver

Let’s start with fat (a.k.a. lipids). A healthy liver has a little bit of fat in it. However, when fat starts to make up more than 5% of your liver’s total weight, it’s a problem. Liver cells that take on too much fat no longer perform their other functions as effectively [5].

Scientists still don’t know the exact causes of fat build-up in the liver or why some people get it while others don’t. Factors that do seem to be important to maintaining liver health include healthy glucose metabolism, balanced inflammatory response, healthy lipid profile and maintaining healthy body weight and composition [5]. As a greater number of people in the US struggle with maintaining healthy balance in these areas there has been a noticeable change in liver health across the population.

The effects of resveratrol appear to benefit the health parameters supporting liver health. Specifically, resveratrol supports normal glucose metabolism and a healthier lipid (fat) profile of the liver as well as provides cellular protective antioxidant properties [4].

Alcohol and the Liver

The liver is the primary site of alcohol metabolism. This means that even though every organ in your body can be affected by excessive alcohol use, the liver is going to be the first to feel the effects [6]. Alcohol has several mechanisms by which it affects the liver including disrupting balanced blood glucose and healthy inflammatory balance. The effects of alcohol use can also affect the accumulation of fat in liver cells  [6]. Basically, the effects of alcohol provide additional fuel to the fire of any metabolic dysregulation.

Therefore, the same actions of resveratrol may continue to support liver health.  Of course, we need to talk about the degree of these effects. Resveratrol supplementation cannot prevent or negate damage caused by heavy drinking. Even a few days of heavy drinking can alter the health and function of your liver. 

The amazing flip side is that the liver is regenerative, and can be very quick to recover… as long as you don’t make heavy drinking a habit. A few days of detox can make a difference too. Perhaps, it would be better to consider resveratrol a great detox support supplement, when you are already making healthy choices about alcohol consumption.

What is “safe” alcohol consumption? Well, having one resveratrol-containing glass of red wine (about 5 ounces) with dinner is probably a safe choice for the average female and males may be able to have 2 of those without more consequence. It’s not fair, but it’s biological. The male liver just makes more of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which means they break alcohol down quicker, and suffer fewer negative effects than females [7].

Red Wine, Resveratrol, AND Liver Health

So… back to the “benefits of red wine”. Yes, red wine is often the richest source of resveratrol in the diet, and resveratrol supports liver health [8]. But, wine is also a source of alcohol, which damages liver health. No need to go pour out your glass, just be reticent of moderation.

If you have a functional, healthy liver, moderate wine drinking is statistically associated with good health from multiple perspectives. 

In terms of clinically relevant doses, however, red wine contains about 1.8 mg resveratrol/L [8]. That amount translates to about 0.3 mg per glass of wine. In comparison, 1 capsule of Metabolic Maintenance’s Resveratrol with Piperine contains 200 mg resveratrol. The 200 mg serving is relevant to doses used in clinical trials, while the dose delivered by red wine is not [8]. 

Together, these data indicate that resveratrol is likely supportive of many body systems, but wine probably isn’t the best source. You would have to drink so much wine to get clinically relevant doses of resveratrol that you would very likely do more harm than good to your liver (and other organs). 

Maybe chase your single glass of red wine with a resveratrol capsule. A single resveratrol supplement delivers about 670x more resveratrol than your glass of wine, with no liver damage and no uncomfortable morning-after.