The Truth About Red Wine and Heart Disease
Red Wine, Heart Disease, Hungry Sharks and Knights in Shining Armor. What is so special about wine?
What is it that makes it potentially more protective against coronary heart disease, and perhaps
other diseases, than other forms of alcohol?
In recent years, scientists have concluded without doubt that many human diseases such as heart
disease, cancer and the aging process is caused or stimulated by a ravenous group of chemicals
called free radicals, that act like hungry sharks. These highly charged little villains prowl the
body and attack healthy cell membranes through a process that is called oxidation. In this scenario,
there is however a knight in shining armor that jumps to the rescue and purges these ever hungry
little killers. The name of our crusader is antioxidants.
Without getting too technical, the oxidation process in our bodies is crucial for health, without
it, for instance, we would not be able to extract energy from our food. But if there are too many
free radicals in our bodies this can be harmful.
Our body has its own defenses against free radicals, in the form of enzymes that are able to turn
the hungry little sharks into harmless water. However, sometimes our bodyís natural defense
mechanisms canít cope. Other times, external events can cause huge increases of free radicals within
our bodies, such as x-rays, cigarette smoke and exposure to toxic substances. At times, this surge
of free radicals can swamp our defenses and illnesses such as radiation sickness may take place.
So what does oxidation and free radicals have to do with heart disease?
Low density lipoproteins, commonly know as "bad" LDL, can penetrate and gather against the inner
walls of our arteries, under certain conditions, forming fatty streaks and plaque. Taken alone,
LDL particles arenít so dangerous it seems, however, when attacked by free radicals they turn into
dangerous and somewhat aggressive cells, capable of actually penetrating and harming the smooth
inner walls of our arteries. This process is called oxidation. Oxidized LDL is known to be the
culprit in stimulating atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke.
Antioxidants, as the name suggests (anti-oxidants) can help stop the oxidation process, which are
the results of free radicals doing their stuff. Most antioxidant research has been carried out on
vitamins (A, E, beta carotene) but quite a lot of work has also been done on the healthy benefits
of red wine. While most research on red wine has been done in relation to coronary heart disease,
it seems that the benefits of wine donít stop there.
Red wine and Coronary Heart Disease
Red wine contains a wide range of flavanoids; these are the chemicals that give the wine its
particular taste and character, making one different from another. Many of these flavanoids act
like antioxidants. Perhaps the forerunner of wine research was carried out by a certain Serge
Renaud, who discovered the French Paradox, which suggested that wine was the decisive factor in
protecting the people in southern France from their very high fat diets and ultimately coronary
heart disease. Even if these people do eat large quantities of high fat cheese, p‚tť, and salami
they have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.
Another study, statistical rather than practical, by a Professor Grey of the University of Bern
in Switzerland focused on the low, medium and high coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality figures
of the World Health Organization.
What did he find? Well from among the high mortality areas were Finland and Scotland, the middle
areas included Ireland, and the low CHD areas included Spain, Italy and France. He then compared
heart attack rates with antioxidant levels in blood samples taken from men living in those areas.
Vitamin E and Heart Disease
What he found was very interesting, the results showed that high antioxidant levels, in particular
vitamin E, coincided with low death rates of heart disease. Moreover, his results showed that
vitamin E levels were 94% more accurate in predicting CHD rates than were cholesterol levels or
blood pressure figures! Apart from diet, the high CHD regions drink very little, if any wine,
whereas the low regions traditionally accompany their meals most days with wine.