A favorite wintertime warm beverage, mulled wine has had varied health benefits attributed to it. Sources claim that drinking mulled wine is good for the heart, helps with high blood cholesterol and can even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and stroke. Some go as far as advocating for its detoxifying properties, benefits for mental health or bone-strengthening effects. But how much of this is actually true and how much of it is a myth that tempts everyone who drinks mulled wine into belief? When it comes to the favorite wintertime beverage, know that not all of its properties actually bring visible benefits that hold measurable value, but may actually hold health risks for some of us.
But first, what is mulled wine? Mulled wine is a heated and aromatized or boiled and seasoned wine recipe usually drank in wintertime, especially during the holidays. Currently, mulled wine is a more popular wintertime beverage than the traditional mulled cider and you can find a recipe for mulled wine in almost every European country or American state. It is made from a red or white wine variety, often selected for its particular aroma. The wine is either boiled together with various spices or simply heated long enough for selected spices to release their flavor.
Preferred mulling spices include cloves, allspice, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, anise, star anise or cardamom as well as other flavor-giving elements such as orange and lemon or rarely other citrus fruit (either slices with rind and juicy pulp, or just the rind), sometimes apples, raisins or a bit of ground ginger. Mulled wine is generally sweetened with either sugar or honey. If you use honey, remember to check if someone if allergic to that particular variety of honey or bee products in general before serving.
What are the health benefits and side effects of mulled wine? Everybody wants validation they are making the right choices, especially dietary choices which weigh so heavily upon our health. So everybody drinking mulled wine wants to believe it really contains all the benefits it’s said to. However, the truth is the properties of mulled wine are slightly blown out of proportion, not to mention there is little mention across the web about the side effects and health risks associated with drinking the beverage. So here you have it, everything you should know about the benefits and side effects of mulled wine.
Benefits and side effects
1) Source of antioxidants. Mulled wine contains an important polyphenolic antioxidant called resveratrol as well as a variety of essential aromatic compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects from spices such as star anise, cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon. According to the American Chemical Society (source), red wine contains around 7 mg of resveratrol per liter, whereas visible health effects require a minimum of 300 mg per liter. The same goes for the antioxidants in the spices: while they are healthy, they are not enough to produce any visible health effects, which means that while having a glass of mulled wine is good for your in theory, the beneficial compounds in it are just not enough to produce the alleged health effects.
2) Helps with nasal congestion and possibly sore throat. Steam, warm air, fluids all temporarily help reduce nasal congestion and could potentially improve a sore throat. So if you happen to have a stuffy nose, breathing in the warm aromatic steam from a hot cup of mulled wine could temporarily help clear mucus. The aromatic spices are also rich in essential oils which not only relieve congestion, but could also help break down mucus from postnasal drip and, together with honey, calm sore throat irritation.
The effects are mild at most and might not produce lasting improvements, but should help temper symptoms of a cold or some other mild respiratory infection temporarily. As for the liquid intake from mulled wine, while it may be hydrating at first, remember that alcohol is ultimately dehydrating and you should replenish with water or electrolyte beverages to maintain an optimal and long-lasting hydration and support further elimination of mucus, regulate blood volume and blood pressure and enjoy more long-lasting improvements in your symptoms (read more about mucus in nose and throat).
3) Small source of minerals, but not vitamin C. By infusing plenty of different spices into the wine and boiling or heating them to release their flavors, you also get the spices to release nutrients such as minerals. Just not vitamin C. Despite the myth that mulled wine has vitamin C from oranges or lemons, it is important to remember that vitamin C is highly sensitive to heat and even lightly heating your mulled wine for 15-20 minutes can cause the small amounts of the vitamin from a few slices of citrus fruit to be lost completely.
4) No detoxifying effects. Alcohol actually impairs normal liver function and essentially makes it hard for the liver to carry out its detoxifying properties. The idea that the beverage has any detoxifying effects has stemmed from resveratrol, vitamin C from citrus fruit and possibly several other elements having such effects. But we have to keep in mind that studies were done in controlled environments and using the extracted elements. So if the heat destroys the vitamin C and other potentially detoxifying elements are in too small amounts of matter, then it only leaves the wine which is not easy at all on the liver. If you have any form of liver problems, it’s best to avoid mulled wine.
5) Bad for cardiovascular health. Mulled wine doesn’t lower cholesterol levels and is overall not good for cardiovascular health. Actually, it dehydrates and acts as a diuretic, causing you to lose important electrolytes (magnesium, potassium, calcium) that regulate blood pressure and heart rate. And regular consumption could lead to serious deficiencies that can amount to high blood pressure and cardiovascular evens such as heart attack or stroke. Anyone with existing hypertension or any form of cardiovascular disease should avoid it altogether.
6) Destroys nerve cells. Science has shown alcohol has a damaging effect on nerve cells and daily consumption will cause nervous system health deterioration. So while the antioxidants in the spices and resveratrol have benefits for the nervous system, they are in too small amounts to matter, whilst the wine itself is enough to produce side effects that outweigh the benefits of other ingredients and their beneficial compounds.
7) Risk of allergic reactions. If you choose to sweeten your mulled wine with honey, remember to ask anyone your are serving it to whether or not they are allergic to that particular variety of honey or honey and bee products in general. It would be helpful to disclose the type of honey you chose to sweeten the mulled with with. And, although not as common, severe allergies to anise, star anise or any spice really are possible too and can easily lead to anaphylactic shock. Remember that allergic reactions represent a medical emergency and require immediate medical attention.
Mulled wine is a preferred wintertime beverage and, overall, safe for consumption in limited amounts and infrequently. Because despite its purported health benefits, it has negligible beneficial effects on human health and several major side effects, especially for anyone with cardiovascular problems such as hypertension or any kind of liver problems. So while study findings show certain beneficial compounds in mulled wine, such as resveratrol or the antioxidants in cinnamon, nutmeg or star anise are good for your health, the effects they produce in such limited amounts are too faint to even be taken into account. In other words, while it’s not necessarily bad to enjoy a glass every now and then, assuming your doctor doesn’t advise against it, mulled wine is not really healthy.