One line of evidence that drinking wine for heart disease protection is a good strategy comes from France.
French have one third as many heart attacks as Americans, even though they indulge in fatty foods and have cholesterol and blood pressure as high as Americans.
This is referred to as the "French paradox". Many experts suspect that the French are less vulnerable to heart disease because they consume more red wine with their meals.
Presumably the protective effect is the result of the flavonoids in red wine, which protect against oxidative damage from LDL cholesterol.
Grape juice also contains flavonoids but it doesn't seem to be as effective as wine for heart disease protection.
According to a couple of dozen studies, one or two drinks a day discourage heart disease.
One study showed that those who drank two drinks a day 40% less likely than non-drinkers to be hospitalized for heart attacks.
A major 1991 study by Eric Rimm at the Harvard University School of Public Health, showed that men who averaged 1/2 to one drink a day had 21% less coronary artery disease than abstainers. One to one-and-a-half daily drinks shaved 32% off their heart disease odds.
Heavier drinking might depress heart disease odds even further, but the problem is that more than two units a day puts you in high risk territory for other diseases, including cancer.
One study showed that three to five alcoholic drinks a day increased death by 50%!
Some possible reasons for alcohol's benefits, not just in wine:
there's some benefits in moderate drinking of any alcoholic beverages,
research suggests wine reduces cardiovascular disease better than
distilled spirits or beer.
Dr. Alun Evans, of Queens University in Belfast, notes that Frenchmen have 1/3 fewer heart attacks than Irishmen and yet they drink the same amount of alcohol. The main difference seems to be that the Frenchmen drink mainly red wine, the Irish drink more hard liquor.
It's true that red wine acts as an anticoagulant. Thus French health authorities suggest that wine consumed along with fatty meals counteracts the fat hazard.
Fatty foods tend to make the blood more sluggish so it's more likely to clot and plug arteries. Wine may thwart that process.
But, again, the scientists caution the wine drinking should be regular and "moderate" - no more than two to three four-ounce glass of wine a day.
You don't get the same health benefits from drinking beer or liquor, it does seem that wine for heart disease is the best protection. Flavonols and bioflavonoids found in grapes and grape skins have numerous heart-healthy effects.
For instance, they increase nitric oxide production in artery cells, which help blood vessels to dilate and block production of other chemicals that can lead to build-up of plaque on artery walls.
Flavonoids in red wine appear to be even more effective than vitamin E for preventing LDL cholesterol oxidation and they also work effectively at preventing blood clots.
Bottom line: If you already drink wine, a regular dose of a drink or two a day, especially of wine with meals, may act as antidote to heart disease, but if you don't already use alcohol, don't start drinking wine for heart disease protection, because the dangers can well outweigh the benefits.
If you drink more than two units a day, or one if you are a woman, cut down.
Heavy drinking harms your heart and your general health and boosts chances of death.
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