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May's Wellness Topic: Nutrition
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Dr. Linda Lee

Red Wine and Your Health
by Linda Lee

You've probably heard by now that a glass of red wine is good for your health. Surveys indicate that relatively healthy individuals who consume small-to-moderate amounts of red wine each day seem to be at lower risk for cardiovascular diseases, like coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. All of these diseases are caused by cholesterol deposits (plaques) forming in blood vessels, leading to the development of blood clots at those sites and restricting blood flow to the heart, brain or other tissues.

So what is it about red wine that could interfere with the development of cardiovascular disease? There's been a lot of debate about whether it is the alcohol itself or some of the other compounds from grapes that confer this benefit. Turns out, it's probably both.

The alcohol content in one or two glasses of wine may have protective effects against cardiovascular events by raising your good cholesterol (HDL) level and interfering with cholesterol plaque formation in large blood vessels. Alcohol also may make your platelets less sticky so that your blood is less likely to form clots in those narrowed blood vessels.

But will the consumption of any type of alcoholic beverage be associated with these same benefits? Not necessarily. While studies have shown that drinking either white or red wine is associated with comparable reductions in cardiovascular risk, other studies have suggested that red wine is superior not only to white wine in this respect, but also to beer and spirits.

All wines contain compounds called polyphenols that may contribute to these reductions in cardiovascular disease. Red wine, however, is made by macerating or soaking the grape skins until the skins become separated into their constituents — and this process causes red wines to contain 10 times the amount of polyphenols compared to white wine.

Grapes contain many different polyphenols, including flavonoids, quercetin, and resveratrol-- compounds thought to counter the formation of cholesterol deposits. Resveratrol may even make your blood vessel walls less stiff, and it's also been shown to reduce blood pressure in animal studies. Quercetin has a similar effect on blood vessel walls, but in addition, may help make platelets less sticky.

So does this mean you should drink a glass of wine every day to stay healthy? Absolutely not, especially if you don't like it or if you have an alcohol-related health issue already. You can get the same amount of resveratrol that's in a glass of red wine by snacking on a cup of red grapes with their skins. Resveratrol is also found in purple grape juice and peanuts.

While taking supplements containing resveratrol or quercetin to reduce cardiovascular risk might seem like a tempting alternative, studies are still needed to really prove that taking these supplements are clinically beneficial to you. It's not known how much of these compounds your body utilizes when they are ingested in supplement form as compared to when they are found in food — or if supplements are even effective in reducing cardiovascular risk.

Just remember, taking supplements or drinking a glass of red wine every day is in no way a substitute for eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and leading a healthy lifestyle.

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