Is Wine the Heart-Healthiest Alcoholic Beverage?

Greek researchers found that moderate consumption of red wine may decrease oxidative stress, one of the biggest risk factors in heart disease

Is Wine the Heart-Healthiest Alcoholic Beverage?
Researchers focused on oxidative stress in heart patients and found that a little more than a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon a day had big benefits. (Morsa Images/Getty)
Jul 6, 2022

What do your heart and an open bottle of wine have in common? Oxidative stress plays a critical role in damaging both. But that open bottle of wine could actually help protect your heart. In new findings, a group of Greek researchers from Harokopio University found that coronary heart disease (CHD) patients who consumed wine in moderation had much lower rates of oxidative stress than patients who abstained or drank spirits. They believe wine's polyphenolic compounds are the cause.

Oxidative stress is when the body produces more reactive reactive organic molecules containing oxygen than antioxidants. Oxidative stress can damage DNA, RNA and proteins, eventually leading to heart disease and other disorders. Past research has shown a link between moderate wine consumption and reduced oxidative stress, mainly due to antioxidants in grapes, including compounds such as resveratrol.

The new study, published earlier this year in the journal Nutrients, tracked 64 male CHD patients in their early sixties recruited from local hospitals in Athens, Greece, for eight weeks. The researchers elected to study only men in order to have a relatively homogeneous sample, according to co-author Dr. Elizabeth Fragopoulou. "Men and women are characterized by different biochemical responses and one of their main differences is the hormones that could affect the observed results," she said.

The researchers conducted a randomized, single-blind study. Patients were assigned to one of three study groups. Group A comprised subjects that abstained from alcohol; Group B comprised patients who were assigned to consume 200 milliliters of Domaine Hatzimichalis Cabernet Sauvignon per day (a typical glass of wine contains 150ml); Group C assigned subjects 71ml (2.4 ounces) per day of tsipouro, a local distilled spirit. The researchers collected blood and urine samples at the start and at four weeks and eight weeks into the experiment to assess protein content and DNA/RNA oxidation.

The results showed that levels of oxidized guanine (a component of DNA) in the wine group decreased by 24.4 percent at four weeks and by 15 percent at eight weeks compared to baseline values at the start. Oxidized guanine levels in the tsipouro group increased by 9 percent at four weeks and 31.1 percent at eight weeks.

Protein oxidation was measured through blood samples. The researchers found that protein carbonyl levels (an oft-used marker for oxidative stress) in the wine group decreased by 10.5 percent at four weeks and 15.6 percent at eight weeks compared to when the experiment started. The tsipouro group saw an 18.1 percent increase at eight weeks. In comparison to the abstaining group, researchers found that the wine group had a 7.9 percent greater decrease of protein carbonyl levels, overall.

Why is wine responsible for this reductive effect? According to the researchers, phenolic compounds are effective antioxidants that can counter oxidative stress and influence the activity of the enzymes that are responsible for the production of reactive oxygen species.

The authors suggest that more clinical studies need to be carried out in order to confirm these findings. Important caveats to consider include the all-male cohort, the fact researchers relied on food frequency questionnaires, which may be subject to bias, and that the observed biological activity of wine's antioxidants cannot yet be attributed to a specific compound or group of compounds. The study's short duration is also an important factor to consider since results may vary after eight weeks. But the authors remain confident that when it comes to consuming alcohol, wine is the drink of choice to keep your heart healthy.

"These results support the idea that wine’s bioactive compounds may exert antioxidant actions that counteract the macromolecular oxidative damage induced by alcohol in CHD patients," Dr. Fragopoulou told Wine Spectator. "If you drink in moderation, you may have better antioxidant protection if you drink wine rather than other beverages."


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