Alcohols (ethanol) is a known cardioprotective agent. Most alcoholic drinks have been researched and the general consensus is that they all provide protective effect. It is unclear how alcohol can protect from cardiovascular disease but it may relate to its ability to increase the fluidity of cell membranes and thus prevent blood clotting. Alternatively, alcohol may increase the metabolism of dietary plant omega 3 fatty acids to beneficial anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic eicosanoids.
Are Recommendations Too Low?
The protective effect of wine last around 24 hours following consumption. During this time the risk of a heart attack decreases significantly. This would tend to suggest that for alcohol to be a long term benefit, regular consumption is a requirement. Current guidelines are to limit alcohol intake and to moderate consumption. However, the scientific evidence suggests that the protective effects of alcohol may require higher intakes than previously considered.
Of all the alcoholic drinks, red wine is likely the most protective. The protective effects of red wine are greater than other alcoholic drinks because wine is not only a source of alcohol, it is also rich in plant antioxidants, particularly resveratrol. These antioxidants are thought to decrease oxidative stress, and in this way prevent damage to arteries and other vascular tissue that may initiate and propagate cardiovascular disease, complimenting the effects of alcohol.
The French drink wine, lots of wine. Their lower rates of cardiovascular disease are thought to be accounted for by their high rates of wine consumption. In the Southern parts of France where traditional diets are still consumed, wine is drunk with most meals and it is not uncommon to drink far more than is currently recommended by Western governments. However, such individuals are protected from cardiovascular disease and show greater longevity.
Does Wine Have To Be Absorbed?
It is often assumed that for a food to be beneficial it must be absorbed and circulate to the tissues. However, recent evidence suggests that wine may actually protect from disease by inhibiting free radicals in the stomach and gut before it even enters circulation. Other evidence suggests that wine may even be protective of disease if it is used for cooking. This suggests that some of the protective effects of wine may rely on it being consumed with food.
So How Much Wine?
If wine is protective because it interacts with food during cooking and food in the gut, the French practice of drinking wine with meals explains their lower rates of cardiovascular disease. Drinking only one glass of wine with each evening meal would suggest that at least two bottles of wine a week might be necessary for beneficial effects. What is clear is that drinking wine freely is not detrimental to the health and is in fact associated with protection from a number of disease.