Nutrition-wise blog

Heart-health benefits of wine questioned

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. June 11, 2010

"French paradox" was coined to describe the observation that the French have a low incidence of heart disease despite the fact that their diet is relatively high in saturated fat. The paradox appeared to be explained, at least in part, by a study in 1992 showing that consumption of wine in moderate amounts reduced the risk of heart attack by at least 40 percent. As a result of this and other research, red wine has came to be viewed as heart healthy.

Recently, however, a group of French researchers decided to dig deeper into the association of wine and heart health. They looked at wine drinkers for other factors that may contribute to heart health.

Among men who drank moderate amounts of wine — about 3.5 to 10 ounces of wine, equaling 10 to 30 grams of alcohol a day — the following characteristics were also associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease: lower body mass index, heart rate, triglycerides, blood sugar, stress and depression, and higher respiratory function, physical activity, health and professional status.

Among women who drank moderately, the following characteristics were also associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease: smaller waist circumference, and lower values for blood pressure, triglycerides and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

Moderate drinkers of both sexes had optimal levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. Low and moderate drinkers also had more favorable socioeconomic status and described themselves as healthy.

The researchers point out that these results raise the possibility that it's not the wine itself that provides the protective effect. Rather, moderate wine consumption may be a marker of higher social level, superior general health and, therefore, lower cardiovascular risk.

What's my take on this? I'll eat heart-healthy foods, pay attention to my weight and waist size, stay active and employed — and enjoy a glass of wine just in case.

- Jennifer

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Jun. 11, 2010