Wine and Heart: How does it work?

Glass of red wine

Moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages is associated with lower levels of coronary heart disease.

Approximately half of the cardio-protective effects of wine are believed to be due to alcohol itself since it changes the balance of lipids in the blood favourably.

Vascular disease occurs when bad cholesterol (LDL) is deposited in artery walls and builds up, eventually rupturing, causing a clot to form which blocks off the artery and the tissue supplied with blood by that artery dies.

• Alcohol stimulates the production of the “good” high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) which removes the “bad” low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) from arteries and veins where it can form plaques.
• It also reduces the “stickiness” or the clotting together of red blood cells which could form a clot and block the blood flow in an artery (thrombosis) resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
• Furthermore, alcohol has an overall anti-inflammatory effect that affects the blood vessels positively and thus delays the development of atherosclerosis.

Wine, in addition, contains Phenolic substances which act as antioxidants and inhibit bad cholesterol from being incorporated in the artery wall. These antioxidants also reduce the damage caused by the body's free radicals (toxic waste products) which contribute to causing degenerative diseases in the body such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and ageing. It should be noted that the antioxidant activity in unfermented grape juice is lower than in the finished wine - antioxidant activity increases during fermentation and maturation. Antioxidant levels will depend on the processing, filtering as well as on the variety, vintage, altitude and soil.

Resveratrol, along with quercetin and epicatechin, is one of the main antioxidants found in wine. These phenolic bioflavonoid compounds give wine its characteristic colour and flavour and are produced by plants in response to fungal infection, ultraviolet light, and various chemical and physical stressors, especially during ripening. Researchers have shown that these antioxidants in wine are five times more potent than the benchmark antioxidant, vitamin E.

These findings support the overwhelming and growing body of scientific research indicating that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages is associated with lower levels of coronary heart disease as well as with better health and greater longevity.

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