Studies have shown that individuals which moderately consume red wine on a daily basis are nearly half as likely to die from Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) than non-drinkers and heavy-drinkers. Read on and find out how red wine protects your heart…
Scientists could not understand the results obtained from a large population study done 30 years ago that compared the incidence of CVD in different countries. To their surprise, French people had one of the lowest mortality rates despite their elevated consumption of saturated fats. After careful evaluation of social and environmental factors, they suggested that the high consumption of red wine among French people was responsible for their reduced risk of CVD; a phenomenon that soon became known as the ‘French paradox’.
Figure 1. This graph compares saturated fat consumption and mortality from heart disease. It shows how countries with a higher consumption of saturated fats (shown here as a cholesterol/saturated fat index) have a higher death rate from CVD. However, France is an exception; due to the fact that they have one of the lowest mortality rates from CVD despite having a high cholesterol/saturated fat index. This was later attributed to the high consumption of red wine in France compared to other countries, something which became known as the French paradox. From http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1768013/
Foods that are high in saturated fats raise the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL); which effectively increases our blood cholesterol levels. Over time, this contributes to a deterioration of the arteries, called atherosclerosis. This can eventually lead to a blockage in any artery, which will stop the blood flow to the tissue; leading to its death. Thankfully, red wine is able to effectively lower blood cholesterol levels by directly decreasing LDL. Furthermore, it also raises the levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL); ensuring that cholesterol is transported to the liver and broken down. Drinking a glass of wine on a daily basis reduces the risk of having a heart attack and stroke by reducing arterial plaque formation.
While indulging a glass of wine everyday can effectively keep heart disease away in adults; individuals who already suffered heart attacks can still incorporate the habit into their diets and lower their chances of having a new episode. This is because the antioxidants in wine make the platelets less sticky, which effectively reduces the chances of a serious clot from developing in a narrowed artery.
Figure 2. Individuals with developed atherosclerosis in the coronary artery are at high risk of suffering a heart attack. Platelets are essential to our bodies as it allows our blood to clot and prevents us from bleeding to death. (a) But they can be a problem with people at risk from heart disease as they can attach to fatty plaques in narrowed arteries, shutting the blood flow completely; triggering a heart attack. (b) Starting to drink wine on a daily basis can make platelets less likely to stick to the arterial plaque, hence preventing the artery from becoming blocked.
Additionally, the antioxidants protect the arterial endothelial cells from oxidative damage. These cells make up the interior of the blood vessel and are constantly exposed to free radicals that slowly harm the arterial wall, contributing to atherosclerosis. Some foods that we eat produce free radicals which harm our cells, such as the ones lining the arteries. The good news is that the antioxidants in wine essentially act like a protective shield that blocks and neutralises these harmful species. This is why it is always best to gulp your glass of red wine when you eat.
Red wine is much higher in antioxidants than grape juice or other alcoholic beverages, including white wine. The powerful polyphenol antioxidants found in red wine are likely to be responsible for the ‘French paradox’. However, de-alcoholised wine does not appear to be as beneficial to the heart; suggesting that ethanol also plays a key part.
Many doctors advise men and women to drink a glass of red wine on a daily basis as a dietary strategy to reduce the risk from cardiovascular complications in life. However, wine is not advised under any circumstance to pregnant women, children, individuals with liver disease, alcoholics, or people taking certain medications that may interact with wine. Overall, it is safe to drink wine on a daily basis by most people, so long as it is done in moderation and no other alcoholic beverages are drunk.
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