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  health > heart > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Will wine help your heart?

July 6, 1999
Web posted at: 10:21 AM EDT (1421 GMT)

In this story:

Fresh fruits and fish

Important chemical compounds

Wine's special delivery


By Hacsi Horvath

  • light to moderate wine-drinking (one or two glasses a day)
  • low in red meat
  • low in lard or butter, higher in olive oil
  • high in fish
  • high in cheese, low in whole milk
  • high in bread, fruits and vegetables
  • (WebMD) -- Whatever the cultural benefits of wine, one question intrigues both researchers and consumers: Is wine good for the heart? Several studies have shown that drinking a glass or two with meals may indeed help to protect against heart disease. Further support for these findings may be found in the fact that the French, who drink a lot more wine per capita than Americans do, have a third less heart disease. Of 21 affluent countries studied at various intervals over more than 20 years, France had the highest wine intake and the second-lowest cardiovascular disease mortality rate -- a phenomenon that some have called the "French paradox."

    Even the U.S. government seems to believe in wine's health benefits: Recently, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which regulates wine marketing, decided to allow wine makers to promote "the health effects of wine consumption." But does the benefit come from the wine itself, from some element of it, or neither?

    Fresh fruits and fish

    The good effects of wine may be only part of the picture. Other studies have pointed out that in contrast to nondrinkers or to regular beer or liquor drinkers, people who prefer wine are more likely to eat a healthy, "heart-smart" diet, with a high intake of fruits, fresh vegetables and fish and with a lower consumption of saturated fat. So some of the real benefit may be in the cuisine associated with wine drinking -- a traditionally "Mediterranean" diet and one that is found in many French homes.

    Is it the generally "relaxing" effect of drinking alcoholic beverages that keeps the heart in better shape? Does it have something to do with the alcohol's chemical properties? Does drinking alcohol of any kind reduce cardiovascular risk? These have been some of the key questions in the research. Although studies have been inconclusive, it does appear that light to moderate drinking of wine, rather than beer or spirits, seems to confer special benefits to health (high consumption, as one might expect, leads to considerably higher mortality). There are other elements of the equation that still need to be explored, however, such as the fact that in the United States wine drinking is usually linked to a higher income level, which is itself correlated with better diet and reduced mortality rates.

    Important chemical compounds

    A possible explanation for wine's health effects lies in what it's made from: Grapes and other fruits are loaded with phenolic chemical compounds called flavonoids, as well as other antioxidant compounds. These compounds have been shown to reduce the artery-clogging propensities of low-density lipids (LDL), the "bad" form of cholesterol, as well as inhibit the formation of blood clots. In fact, one of the wine and heart disease studies also found that fruit consumption itself led to lower cardiovascular disease mortality -- just drinking grape or other juice and eating fresh fruits may suffice to improve heart health. This is especially good news for nondrinkers.

    Wine's special delivery

    But wine presents these flavonoids and antioxidants to the body in a way that juices do not. During the course of processing ordinary juice, the phenolic compounds are largely degraded by their exposure to oxygen, dramatically lowering levels of the heart-helping chemical substances. Wine making, with its anaerobic process (that is, one not exposed to oxygen), preserves these. Juice is still "good for the heart," but perhaps not as good as wine.

    A glass or two of wine each day may be good for your heart. Other alcoholic beverages, taken in moderation, may give somewhat less benefit. Eating a diet low in saturated fats is certainly wise, especially if it includes lots of fresh fruits and juices. Whatever it takes to get your heart health in shape, you should definitely do it -- and wine may be part of the solution.

    Copyright 1999 by WebMD, Inc. All right reserved.


    American Heart Association
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