Red wine antioxidants don't improve heart health

You might not be able to pass off the daily glass of red-wine as good for your heart anymore.

Health benefits of red wine don't pan out

You might not be able to pass off the daily glass of red-wine as good for your heart anymore.

After years of believing the "The French Paradox," — the high cholesterol diet but low heart disease phenomenon in the French that was attributed to red wine intake, a study released at John’s Hopkins University in Baltimore today showed no correlation between red wine and the incidence of heart disease, cancer and inflammation.

Even a little bit of red wine may be too much of a good thing. (Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press)

The study looked at 783 men and women over 65 years of age in two Italian villages in the Chianti region between 1998 and 2009. Resveratrol, the antioxidant in red wine, chocolate and grapes thought to be the main reason for the beneficial effect of wine, was measured in the urine over 24 hours.

Levels of this antioxidant were measured at three year, six year and nine year follow-ups and multiple markers of heart disease and cancer were documented including:

  • Mortality.
  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Cholesterol.
  • Blood pressure.

A total of 268 participants who previously had no heart disease at the start of the study died (34.3 per cent), while 34 (4.6 per cent) developed cancer.

The research group was actually looking for evidence that resveratrol was good. But in fact, the groups with the lowest consumption seemed to have the best results.

The study isn't completely definitive. The authors were able to draw a correlation between red wine and heart health but they can't say for sure that one causes the other. For example, the group that drank the most red wine also smoked the most, which could have affected the results.

While most of the studies on red wine and chocolate have focused on resveratrol, including this latest one, it's possible  there is something else about red wine and alcohol that could be beneficial but hasn't been explored.

Previous evidence has been conflicted, with some studies showing that the phenols in red wine and chocolate were correlated with decreased cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes and others showing no benefit or a negative impact. Most of the positive data on resveratrol has come from test tube or animal studies.

People desperately want to believe red wine is good for you. But wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so.- Dr. Chi-Ming Chow

In popular culture, the positive results have received more attention and have led to a $30 million US resveratrol supplementation business in the U.S., the researchers said.

Current recommendations from the World Health Organization, American Heart Association and Heart and Stroke Foundation in Canada is no consumption of alcohol.

If alcohol is consumed, the Heart and Stroke Foundation suggests two drinks a day, to a weekly maximum of 10 for women and three drinks a day to a weekly maximum of 15 for men. The low-risk guidelines suggest that the drinks be spread out and consumed on a full stomach. 

There is a relationship in some studies that suggests a modest benefit for a moderate amount of alcohol, but that heart disease tends to increase after that.

Dr. Chi-Ming Chow, a cardiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and spokesperson for Heart and Stroke Foundation says this study proves what they’ve suspected all along.

"People desperately want to believe red wine is good for you. But wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so," he says.

The World Health Organization released a report today on the worldwide negative impacts of alcohol, saying that every 10 seconds, someone is killed by alcohol.

"The rumour about wine being good started about 20 years ago with the French," says Chow. "But all the heart organizations will tell you they would prefer you not to drink and take the chance of overdoing it."

He says if you have to drink alcohol, red wine contains grapes and flavonoids that other alcoholic beverages don’t, so it’s probably the best for you.

As for the French Paradox, the jury is still out on what causes it. But it probably isn’t the wine.


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