Monday, January 24, 2011

A Little Less Wine-ing Please!

Over the past few years red wine has become labeled as a “heart healthy” beverage and has been adopted by many who seek to improve their heart health. However, studies are still inconclusive as to if it is just red wine that provides benefit, or if the cardio-protective aspects can be found through other sources. No studies I am aware of have distinguished whether it is the wine itself, the lifestyles of wine drinkers, alcohol in general, or the grapes that are cardio-protective. For example, red wine drinkers may be more likely to exercise regularly and eat more fruits and vegetables (and less saturated fat) than non-wine drinkers, and for those reasons, wine-drinkers have a lower risk of developing heart problems. The polyphenols in wine (flavanoids and nonflavanoids like resveratrol) are thought to help protect the lining of the blood vessels in the heart, reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reduce the risk of blood clots, while alcohol alone is thought to provide some benefit. I describe the alleged benefits of each below:
·         Resveratrol- Derived from the skin of grapes, but also found in peanuts, blueberries, and cranberries (and obviously, resveratrol is high in grapes and grape juice) and may be anti-inflammatory; Many studies on resveratrol are conducted on mice, and use amounts equivalent to drinking 100-1,000 bottles of wine/day… which is impossible for humans to consume (I do not advise buying resveratrol supplements, as there is not enough research to support them. As with most levels of supplements, high quantities of an isolated substance is not natural, and probably not very good for you).
·         Alcohol- Alcohol is believed to increase HDL (good) cholesterol, reduce the formation of blood clots, and prevents artery damage from LDL (bad) cholesterol
As mentioned previously, the studies are inconclusive as to whether red wine itself is the best beverage for the heart, or if the same benefits can be obtained by drinking grape juice or forms of alcohol other than wine (e.g.: hard liquor or beer).
My Recommendations:   If you drink wine, do so in moderation. It appears red wine may be the best choice of all alcoholic beverages because of its high antioxidant content and apparent benefits of alcohol. The term “moderation” means that women can have up to 1 glass (4 oz) and men up to 2 glasses (8 oz) of wine per day, as recommended by the American Heart Association. Too much wine can lead to other problems such as alcoholism, elevated triglycerides and blood pressure, weight gain (which can lead to diabetes and heart disease), cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmias, breast cancer, liver failure, and many other serious disorders. So, as with most dietary recommendations: moderation is key. If you drink more than the recommended amounts of red wine, you will probably be harming yourself more than any benefits you will be getting. Also, keep in mind that alcohol is calorie dense (7 calories/gram vs. 4 calories/gram for carbs and protein) and just 6 oz. of red wine has 150 calories… Coke or any other soda has about half the calories of that! The best bet is to exercise regularly, eat your fruits and veggies, and follow a mostly plant-based diet.

Interested in the Mediterranean Diet? Check out this great cookbook: The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health

1.         Red Wine and Resveratrol: Good for Your Heart? Mayo Clinic Website.
2.         Alcohol, wine and cardiovascular disease. American Heart Association.
3.         Alcohol. Beaumont Hospitals Services & Programs Website.
4.         Szmitko PE, et al. Red Wine and Your Heart. Circulation. 2005;111:e10.

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