AS you relax with a glass of mulled wine in front of the Christmas tree this winter, you might think the festive season is playing havoc with your healthy choices. But we have glad tidings - your glass of mulled wine is actually brimming with health benefits (well, within reason, of course - and only when enjoyed in moderation!).

Usually served hot and made with red wine, citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons, and mulling spices including cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, peppercorn or cardamom, mulled wine has been a Christmas tradition since the second century and is thought to have Roman origins.

But as well as the feel-good factor a warming cup of spicy mulled wine brings, the drink has a number of health benefits...

1. Reducing cardiovascular disease

Some studies suggest red wine may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, a known cause of heart attacks and strokes. Red wine is a source of antioxidants, and drinking it is thought to help increase levels of 'good' HDL cholesterol and eliminate 'bad' LDL cholesterol, helping to prevent clogged arteries and heart disease. Nutmeg, another mulled wine stalwart, can also help the cardiovascular system, as studies suggest it reduces cardiovascular disease and can boost heart function.

2. Reducing osteoporosis

Red wine in moderation has also been linked with reducing the risk of the bone-weakening condition osteoporosis, by possibly contributing towards increased bone mineral density. This is believed to be down to the resveratrol - a polyphenol plant compound - in red wine, which has anti-inflammatory properties that help protect against bone loss.

3. Slowing down ageing

The resveratrol in red wine is also thought to help rejuvenate cells and slow the ageing process. A high concentration of resveratrol helps fight against damaging free radicals in the skin too, keeping you looking younger.

4. Boosting the brain

More resveratrol magic - apparently, it also helps improve blood flow, and studies suggest this may boost brain function and memory. In addition, the nutmeg in mulled wine can help stimulate the brain, reducing fatigue, stress and anxiety and improving concentration.

5. Beating colds

The antioxidants in red wine could even help fight infections and support immunity: A Spanish study found people who drank more than 14 glasses of wine a week had a 40% lower risk of getting a cold than teetotallers. Cloves are also believed to have anti-viral properties.

6. Detoxing

The nutmeg in mulled wine may help clear the liver and kidneys of toxins, and is particularly effective as a liver tonic. Nutmeg can apparently also help prevent kidney stones forming.

7. Fighting inflammation

The cinnamon in mulled wine has been shown to have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, reducing swelling and restoring normal tissue function. This may help conditions like arthritis. The antioxidants in red wine and in cloves can also help reduce inflammation.

8. Improving gut health

The cloves in mulled wine are thought to help increase gut motility, as well as improving digestion. As a result, the cloves are thought to improve digestive problems, including indigestion, wind and constipation.

9. Painkilling

The essential oil eugenol, found in cloves, has local anaesthetic and antiseptic properties that can be used to help treat dental problems like toothache.