Why Red Wine Is Good for the Heart

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We have known for quite a while now that a moderate intake of alcohol, particularly red wine, is good for your blood pressure and heart in general. It was Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician/alchemist, who said, ‘Wine is a food, medicine or poison, it is just a question of dose.’ The first ‘proper’ academic study to support the belief in the health benefits of wine appeared in the medical journal Lancet in 1979. It showed a strong inverse correlation of wine consumption with heart disease. In 1992, again in the Lancet, a paper on the French Paradox was published referring to the unexpected finding that, even with a high saturated fat intake, the incidence of heart disease in France was relatively low.

Since then abundant evidence has accumulated on the protective qualities of wine, including its ability to protect against high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, reduce complications in people known to have heart disease and a to reduce death rates in general.

Researchers believe that red wine exerts its beneficial effects on the heart and circulation by altering the dysfunction of blood vessels that underlies some forms of heart disease. Some plant chemicals in red wine exert specific effects on blood vessels by suppressing a harmful body substance that is linked to early heart disease – these protective chemicals are called polyphenols. There are many groups of polyphenols. The main group in red wine is the flavinoids, which derive from the seed and skin of the grape.

The levels of polyphenol that ultimately end up in the wine depend upon the fermentation process which is necessary to extract them, which is why ordinary grape juice does not contain much. The polyphenol levels in red wine vary and the content is reduced by a long period of ageing. This means that young (traditionally fermented) tannic wine is better for your heart – if not your palate – than older wines; you can recognize these by the mouth-puckering effect that you experience on first sipping the wine! (remember this if you regularly entertain with wine – any complaints about your vintage can be dealt with by explaining the health benefits).

Certain traditional wine-making areas in Sardinia and the Republic of Georgia are areas noted for their high number of centenarians and researchers have established that the wines have a higher polyphenol content than most. The reason seems to be that the vineyards are at higher altitudes, possibly affecting the levels of UV light the grapes are exposed to. Australian wines for example, from grapes grown at low altitudes, are not as high in polyphenol content.

Not everyone wants to drink wine, however, luckily there are other sources of these compounds that one can drink; green tea, pomegranates, honey and cocoa are good alternatives. The chocolate manufacturing process tends to destroy polyphenols so chocolate only contains about 5% of the original amounts. Fresh cranberry juice is as good as red wine but the juice sold in shops has lower levels than fresh cranberry juice. Pomegranate juice is probably the best source.

As a guide to equivalence two glasses (250ml) of red wine should have as much as 10 cups of green tea, six cups of cocoa, four glasses of cranberry juice or one glass of pomegranate juice. Bear in mind though, as already explained, levels vary greatly depending upon the source and method of producing the various drinks. There are of course many food sources – vegetables such as broccoli, celery, onions and cabbage and fruits such as grapes, apples and pears. A healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will give you a satisfactory intake.

A caution however; implicit in Paracelsus’ comment on poisons is that too much of a good thing may not be good for you. Research into the use of polyphenol supplements added to a normal diet has not shown any major benefits. So don’t waste your money on supplements – put it into a few bottles of mouth-puckering, traditionally made red wine instead.

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Source by Neil O Johnson