Could drinking a glass of red wine a day further decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease on top of a healthy lifestyle?
Studies in the 1970’s have shown that people who drink just one glass of red wine a day have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but it is not sure if that is also true for people who exercise regularly and adopt a healthy diet. In a study published in Nutrition Journal, Dirk Droste and colleagues investigated just that, and concluded that it remains true indeed.
The researchers divided 108 high-risk patients ad random in two groups. One group adopted a Mediterranean diet and started to exercise regularly, while the other group did not change their lifestyle at all. Each group was again divided in two, and one half added daily a small amount of red wine to their diet (0.2 L for men and 0.1L for women) and the other half abstained from all alcohol. The researchers obtained therefore 4 groups:
1) patients adopting lifestyle changes and drinking one glass of red wine
2) patients not changing their lifestyle and drinking one glass of red wine
3) patients adopting lifestyle changes and not drinking any alcohol
4) patient not changing their lifestyle and not drinking any alcohol
They followed all the patients by measuring blood lipids, such as low density protein (LDL or the “bad” cholesterol) and high density protein (HDL, the “good” cholesterol), since these are well known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. After 20 weeks, lifestyle changes improved the ratio LDL/HDL by an average of 8% and red wine by an average of 13% (!). Moreover, the effect of red wine was independent of the lifestyle changes; in other words: there was an additional benefit, even though the effect of red wine was more remarkable in those who did not change their lifestyle. Even patients taking statins showed improvements.
Why red wine?
Red wine is one of the richest sources of polyphenols in the human diet. Polyphenols are powerful anti-oxidants which come from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. The strongest and best known is resveratrol, but the amount in just one glass of red wine is probably not enough to have any effect.
Several studies have shown that alcohol can be good for your health if you drink it in moderation (a maximum of 1 drink or 12.5g alcohol a day for women and 2 drinks or 25 g alcohol a day for men). It increases HDL, is anti-inflammatory, and helps to prevent clot formation and to control glucose levels. More and more scientists now think that the health benefits of red wine are simply linked to a daily light consumption of alcohol and not to resveratrol. Consequently, scientists have tried to find out if beer can be just as beneficial as wine, but studies are contradicting.
Do not drink too much!
Alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease and various tumours, such as breast and colorectal cancer. Even small amounts increase your risk of cancer, as there is no “safe” dose and light drinking does not protect you at all in this case. Overconsumption leads to violence and accidents. The end result is a J-shaped relationship between alcohol and overall mortality, whereby light drinking increases your chances of a long life and heavy drinking reduces it.
What does it mean for me?
Nobody will advise you to drink alcohol to improve cholesterol levels, because the dangers linked to overconsumption are too important. It is indeed impossible to know in advance who is going to be able to remain a daily light drinker and who is not.
If you do not drink alcohol, do not start, as the risks are too large. However, if you use alcohol, try to limit your consumption to 1(women) or 2 (men) units a day.
Disclaimer: this article is for general information only, and does not replace medical advice. It cannot be used to diagnose or guide treatment. If you have any concerns or questions, you should talk to a qualified health provider
D Droste, C Iliescu, M Vaillant et al. A daily glass of red wine associated with lifestyle changes independently improves blood lipids in patients with carotid arteriosclerosis: results from a randomized trial. Nutrition Journal 2013; 12: 147. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-12-147.
J O’Keefe, K Bybee and C Lavie. Alcohol and cardiovascular health: the razor-sharp double-edged sword. JACC 2007; 50(11): 1009.
P Ronsky, S Brien, B Turner et al. Association of alcohol consumption with selected cardiovascular disease outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2011; 22: 342. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d671.