Anyone who follows LeBron James’ Instagram knows how much the Cleveland Cavalier superstar loves wine. Take, for example, the photo of eight empty wine bottles he posted last November with the hashtag #VinoChronicles. Or the casual mention of the pricey bottle of Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2013 he downed with a steak dinner that same month. Our dude is a bona fide oenophile.
James and his wine expertise play starring roles in an ESPN feature on the NBA’s obsession with wine, published Tuesday. While reading, you might get the sense that James might like wine too much. That can’t be good for a pro athlete, right?
But in the interview, James reveals that he’s got his healthy wine drinking game on lock.
“I’ve heard it’s good for the heart,” he says. “Listen, I’m playing the best basketball of my life, and I’m drinking some wine pretty much every day. Whatever it is, I’ll take it.”
Whatever James heard is likely some form of the “French Paradox” — the observation that French people seem to drink a lot of alcohol but somehow have low rates of ischemic heart disease. Over the years, many observational studies have shown a link between lower rates of heart disease and moderate consumption of alcohol, supporting this idea.
For all the studies showing this link, however, none have really been able to show a cause-and-effect relationship, so nobody is really sure how to explain why this association exists. Currently, the American Health Association is investigating this by studying whether alcohol affects the body’s levels of antioxidants, raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol, or has anti-clotting properties.
It isn’t totally clear whether it’s red wine in particular or alcohol consumption more generally that seems to be having good effects on the heart. For its part, red wine is thought to be particularly healthy because some of the chemical compounds found in red grape skins have been shown to help maintain heart health. One class of these compounds, the polyphenols, seems to lower “bad,” artery-clogging LDL cholesterol and increase HDL; these compounds have also been shown to reduce inflammation and improve blood pressure.
Along with fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products, red wine is also a key part of the Mediterranean Diet, which some scientists stand by as a particularly heart-healthy strategy.
Of course, too much wine is never a good thing, even if it’s one of James’ priceless bottles. But exactly how much any one person should be drinking remains an open question. The American Heart Association recommends less than or equal to one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, defining one drink as four ounces of wine. These standards differ depending who you ask, though, as nations can’t seem to agree on what constitutes a single serving of alcohol.
At the very least, by AHA standards, James’ daily wine habit could be viewed as healthy, provided “drinking some wine pretty much every day” doesn’t mean he’s downing entire $600 bottles of vintage Sassicaia by himself, which, at least on some occasions, is a thing that he does.