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It is Not the Alcohol in Wine That is Beneficial

Most readers are familiar with the argument that moderate consumption of alcohol reduces deaths due to coronary heart disease. The comparatively low occurrence of heart disease in France despite a diet high in saturated fat (i.e., the French paradox) is commonly explained by the high intake of wine in that country. There is also indirect evidence that moderate consumption of wine offers greater cardiovascular protection than does similar consumption of other alcoholic beverages. Part of this protective effect has been attributed to the alcohol component of the wine consumed.

However, wines contain abundant quantities of polyphenolic compounds that are not necessarily present in other alcoholic beverages. The concentration of phenolic compounds in red wine is several times greater than that in white wine, and red wine in particular is purported to have a beneficial effect on heart disease. Red wine polyphenols have several potential antiatherogenic activities. They can:

  • protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation
  • inhibit the proliferation of smooth muscle cells
  • enhance endothelial nitric-oxide synthase activity

Unlike alcohol, red wine from which alcohol is removed (dealcoholized red wine) decreases oxidative stress in the test tube. Two recent studies indicated that nitric oxide generation by endothelial cells treated with red wine polyphenols is improved. This is consistent with the heart protective activity of wine being independent of inhibition of lipoprotein oxidation in the blood vessel wall.

So it is likely that the alcohol itself is irrelevant to the beneficial effects of wine consumption. In fact, many believe that the alcohol might actually be toxic and nearly all of the benefit attributed to drinking wine may be related to these polyphenolic bioflavanoid compounds. The main one is called resveratrol and I have rarely been so excited about a supplement. One of the immediate uses is that you can make a solution of resveratrol and triple the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. This is one amazing supplement, and I will be expanding much more on this topic in the future, but I just wanted to acknowledge this exciting research on the real reason why red wine is reducing heart disease now.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition January 2004 Vol. 79, No. 1, 123-130

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