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Spanish Sparkling Wine Reduces Symptoms of Arterial Disease, Study Finds

In a clinical trial of 20 healthy men, drinking cava reduced inflammatory markers associated with atherosclerosis more than drinking gin

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: November 20, 2007

A new study published in the October issue of the Journal of Nutrition reports that the moderate consumption of the Spanish sparkling wine has potential health benefits. Cava is normally produced using a variety of Spanish grapes, and sometimes with Chardonnay. In comparison to spirits, in this case gin, when consumed in moderation, cava was shown to reduce the levels of substances in the body known to cause the buildup of arterial plaque, which may lead to arterial disease.

"Both cava and gin showed anti-inflammatory properties," wrote the scientists. "However, cava had a greater protective effect."

The study, conducted at the Departments of Internal Medicine and Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Barcelona, echoes previous research that found that drinking red wine reduced the inflammatory markers that predict atherosclerosis, more so than gin. In that study, the researchers attributed red wine's naturally high polyphenol content with providing an additional protection from arterial disease, in addition to its ethanol content. Polyphenols are plant-based compounds that serve as antioxidants in the body, which have been shown to help prevent the onset of some diseases. Gin, which is rich in ethanol but low in polyphenols, provided the basis for comparison. "However, no studies to our knowledge have evaluated the anti-inflammatory effects of alcoholic beverages with medium-level polyphenol content, such as cava," wrote the authors of the study.

Atherosclerosis is a chronic disease characterized by the constant inflammation of the arterial walls. The ailment is considered a precursor to more serious circulatory conditions and can be diagnosed by measuring the levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. Previous research has shown that light to moderate alcohol consumption 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.

For the study, the scientists recruited 20 men, aged 25 to 50, who worked at the university and reported drinking between one and two alcoholic drinks daily for the previous five years. The men had no history of heart conditions, such as hypertension, or other ailments, such as type-2 diabetes. The men were also nonsmokers. In the two-week run up to the study, the men were asked to stop drinking alcohol and instructed not to eat polyphenol-rich foods, such as chocolate, olive oil, oranges and spinach, to name a few. They were also not allowed to drink polyphenol-rich beverages, such as tea or tomato juice.

Blood and urine samples were repeatedly taken from the men, starting during the two-week washout session in the beginning of the study, when they drank no alcohol whatsoever. For one week, 10 of the subjects initially drank 0.3 liters of cava per day, while the other 10 drank 0.1 liters of gin per day (roughly equivalent to two 4- to 5-ounce glasses of table wine). For the following week, halfway through the study, the men switched beverages.

The scientists found that when the men were consuming cava, their levels of inflammatory markers were at levels that were 11 to 27 percent lower than during the washout period, when the men abstained. On the other hand, gin drinkers showed levels of inflammatory markers at 13 to 18 percent lower levels. This led the researchers to conclude that "the effects of Cava on inflammatory markers of atherosclerosis were significantly greater than those of gin."

The researchers added that the moderate consumption of cava may well be effective against atherosclerosis while in its early stages, when compared to gin. But they stopped short of recommending one change his or her drinking habits based on the findings, as "the mechanisms by which moderate alcohol consumption may prevent atherosclerosis are not completely known."

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