Drinking red wine regularly may be good for your circulatory system whether you are in your 20s or over 50, according to new research. The study, published in the Sept. 24 issue of Nutrition Journal, found that both younger and older subjects who consumed a half-bottle of red wine nightly showed improved cholesterol levels and reduced oxidative stress on their blood vessels.
Previous studies on wine's cardiovascular-health benefits have tended to focus on older populations, and on the treatment of heart ailments rather than prevention, said study co-author Paul Lewandowski, from the School of Medicine at Deakin University in Victoria. He and two other researchers from different medical schools in Australia sought to determine whether younger people differed from older ones in their ability to benefit from drinking red wine.
"Our findings shed further light on the nature of the beneficial effects of red wine consumption and give supporting evidence for the recommendation that red wine provides protective effects for cardiovascular disease," the authors wrote. Because the amounts consumed by the subjects during the study were above the typical moderate amounts, the scientists don't recommend drinking that much. Nevertheless, "Drinking patterns and not just the total amount of red wine consumed is important in the association between intake and protection," they wrote.
The scientists recruited 20 male and female subjects between the ages of 18 and 30, as well as 20 people aged 50 and older. None of the participants took anticoagulant or anti-inflammatory medications, nor did they have a history of cardiovascular or liver disease.
In the one week run-up to the study, all the volunteers abstained from alcoholic beverages, as well as grapes and grape products. The scientists then took blood samples from each participant to measure the levels of cholesterol and antioxidants in their systems. For the following two weeks, 10 young and 10 older subjects were ordered to drink 400 milliliters (about half a bottle) of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon daily, preferably at night with dinner, while the other 20 participants abstained. The Cabernet was chosen simply because it was palatable to most of the participants, who did not consume any other forms of alcohol, grapes or grape products during the study period.
After two weeks, blood samples were taken again. Then, to serve as a crossover, all the subjects abstained from alcoholic beverages, grapes and grape products. Blood was collected again, and the experiment was repeated, only this time the previously abstaining group took its turn consuming the Cabernet, and the original wine-drinking group was ordered to abstain. At the end of another two-week period, blood samples were taken.
The scientists found that the levels of total antioxidants increased an average of 16 percent in the older group that drank wine and 7 percent in the younger group. Furthermore, the levels of harmful free radicals, which are molecules that can damage systems in the body, were reduced by around half after two weeks of drinking. Antioxidants are believed to bond with and neutralize free radicals.
"These results strongly suggest that in the presence of red-wine consumption, total antioxidant status has the ability to increase significantly," wrote the authors. "In addition, it also suggests that a lifetime of red wine consumption is not needed to achieve a sustained increase in circulating oxidative protection—two weeks is long enough," they added. The scientists found that the red-wine drinkers also showed healthier HDL cholesterol levels, the good kind, though the wine seemed to have little effect on the level of harmful LDL cholesterol.
However, the study was limited, as there were only a few participants who were observed for only short periods of time, Lewandowski said. "Additional longer-term studies, for a period of more than six months, really need to be done to truly determine the long-term health impact, relevant to responsible red-wine drinking," he said. "The problem is that, despite having access to a large number of willing participants who are prepared to drink the wine for more than six months, I have yet to find a granting body or wine producer who is prepared to fund such research."