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Red Wine May Clear the Arteries Better Than Gin, Study Finds

Two nightly glasses of red wine, which is richer in polyphenols than gin, was linked to a greater reduction in inflammation.

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: September 21, 2004

Two glasses of red wine with dinner per night may provide more relief to inflamed, clogged arteries than two shots of gin, according to a study released this summer in the medical journal Atherosclerosis.

"It's clear from these results that, while drinking some form of alcohol lowers inflammatory markers, red wine has a much greater effect than gin," said lead author Emanuel Rubin, professor of pathology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Atherosclerosis is the condition where plaque, formed from fat and cholesterol, builds up and inflames the arteries. This may lead to a hardening or corrosion of the arterial wall. Atherosclerosis is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. Several "inflammatory markers" can be measured for early detection of the disease.

Moderate alcohol consumption is already known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Previous research has shown that light to moderate drinking may help elderly people reduce their risk of atherosclerosis and reduce overall inflammation in their blood vessels. Other studies have linked alcohol consumption to overall artery health and to reduced inflammation of the blood vessels in the lungs that was caused by smoking.

But little research has been done on whether certain types of alcoholic beverages have a greater protective effect for specific conditions, such as atherosclerosis. Ethanol has been shown in previous studies to increase HDL-cholesterol (the good kind) levels in the blood, but its effect on other factors associated with atherosclerosis, such as blood clotting, is unclear. Other studies have revealed that polyphenols (such as resveratrol and tannins), which are found in varying amounts in different alcoholic beverages, may help reduce blood clotting and plaque buildup. Red wine contains a large amount of polyphenols compared with most white spirits.

To see if red wine imparts additional protection against atherosclerosis, the scientists compared its effects on inflammatory markers with those of gin, which is low in polyphenols.

Forty men, ranging in age from 30 to 50, were recruited from their jobs at the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain. Participants had no family history of type 2 diabetes, hypertension or heart disease and reported drinking between 10 grams and 40 grams of alcohol per day. (A 5- or 6-ounce glass of wine has about 15 grams of alcohol, according to the study.) Volunteers also reported taking no medication or vitamins and maintained a healthy diet.

The subjects stopped drinking for 15 days. Their blood plasma was taken after this period and measured for inflammatory markers, such as c-reactive proteins, which elevate the risk of atherosclerosis. For the next 28 days, 20 subjects were given around 11 ounces of Merlot (30 grams of alcohol) with dinner; the wine was rich in resveratrol and tannin. The other 20 volunteers were given 3.4 ounces of gin (also 30 grams of alcohol) with no measurable levels of resveratrol or tannin.

The diets of the volunteers were strictly controlled, so that all of them consumed similar amounts of antioxidants. Products high in polyphenols, such as virgin olive oil and green tea, were forbidden. Subjects were called once a week to verify that they were sticking to the regimen.

After 28 days, the volunteers' blood plasma was again taken and examined. The research was then repeated, with another 15-day "wash-out period," followed by 28 days of drinking; then more blood plasma samples were taken. The 20 subjects who drank wine switched to gin and vice versa.

The gin drinkers had, on average, 15 percent lower levels of c-reactive proteins than all the volunteers had had after the 15-day abstinence period. The red wine drinkers, on the other hand, had 21 percent lower levels. The results were similar for both stages of the trial.

The researchers found similar results for other inflammatory markers, such as "adhesion molecules," which are known to cause blood clots. One such molecule, MCP-1, was reduced by nearly 12 percent in the gin drinkers, but by almost 46 percent in the red wine drinkers.

"The results of the present study confirm that wine has an anti-inflammatory effect," the authors wrote. However, the scientists stopped short of saying that drinking red wine imparts greater protection from heart disease than gin. Instead, they simply said wine lowers known risk factors more, though it may not lead to protection against cardiovascular disease, as the pathology is complex.

"It's tough to root out just what is going on," Rubin said. In the future, "there will have to be long-term epidemiological studies done."

# # #

For a comprehensive look at the potential health benefits of drinking wine, check out senior editor Per-Henrik Mansson's feature Eat Well, Drink Wisely, Live Longer: The Science Behind A Healthy Life With Wine

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