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How Red Wine Protects the Heart: New Study

Testing Red Wine

We’ve been told for years that drinking red wine is good for the heart because it contains potent antioxidants called polyphenols, but how does it protect the heart? Researchers at the University of Milan in Italy have come up with an explanation.

Drinking red wine reduces cardiovascular risks

A recent review of dozens of studies published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research noted that the antioxidants in red wine (e.g., resveratrol, quercetin, proanthocyanidine) “exert protective functions like free radical scavenging effects, decreasing the oxidative stress and reducing the inflammatory atherosclerotic lesions.” The reviewers concluded that “red wine as a diet supplement might be beneficial for cardiovascular risk factors.”

To answer the question of how red wine protects the cardiovascular system, Roberta Cazzola and her colleague have found that “red wine polyphenols protect omega-3 PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids] more than omega-6 PUFA of plasma.” Omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties, while omega-6 fatty acids largely are associated with causing inflammation.

More specifically, the investigators studied the impact of red wine polyphenols on the oxidation stability of the two main omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and the omega-6 fatty acid archidonic acid (AA). They found that the polyphenols increased resistance to breakdown (peroxidation) of the omega-3s EPA and DHA more than the omega-6, AA.

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A number of studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and cardiovascular events. New results from the Cardiovascular Heart Study, for example, note that omega-3 fatty acid concentrations are associated with a lower risk of congestive heart failure in older adults.

Another new study, this one from Johns Hopkins, recommended consumption of fatty fish (excellent source of EPA and DHA) and a diet that includes foods rich in the other omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, “for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

The findings of the University of Milan study provided the authors with “a biochemical rationale for future ‘in vivo’ studies on the benefits to health of moderate red wine consumption.” Moderate red wine consumption has been determined to be up to 300 milliliters (10 oz) per day.

Cazzola R, Cestaro B. Food Research International 2011; doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2011.07.029
Defilippis AP et al. Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine 2010 Aug; 12(4): 365-80
Mozaffarian D et al. Annals of Internal Medicine 2011 Aug 2; 155(3): 160-70
Saleem TS, Basha SD. Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research 2010 Oct; 1(4): 171-76

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons