Adding to the growing body of evidence of the potential health benefits of wine, a Stanford Medical School study indicates that alcohol can minimize cardiac trauma suffered during heart attacks and bypass surgery. The findings may be used to develop drugs to reduce the risk of heart damage during medical procedures.
The study, which was conducted on rats, was published in the Oct. 26 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
During stressful conditions such as heart attacks and bypass surgery, heart tissue experiences damage -- called ischemia -- from oxygen deprivation. "We found that alcohol activates an enzyme, epsilon PKC, that significantly reduces the damage," explained associate professor of pharmacology Daria Mochly-Rosen, leader of the research team. This protective effect can be derived from the short-term intake of the equivalent of a glass or two of alcohol.
Past studies have shown that long-term consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. "This [Stanford study] has two very important findings," said Les Reinlib, health scientist administrator for the Division of Heart and Vascular Diseases at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "It suggests, for the first time, that heart cells that have never been exposed to alcohol benefit from moderate alcohol consumption, and it also reveals the mechanism of the benefits."
Because alcohol also triggers other enzymes with potentially harmful effects, said Mochly-Rosen, further research will attempt to develop drugs that only duplicate the positive results of epsilon PKC. Although these drugs might not be available for 10 years, she is enthusiastic about the prospects.
"We wanted to determine if presurgical alcohol could have benefits," she said. "And this could help heart-attack victims, who usually have some time after the onset of chest pain before experiencing full blockage." The findings could also be significant for heart recipients by reducing the ischemia that occurs during transplants.
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