Is drinking wine really good for your heart?
Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | As the weekend approaches, people open wine bottles in bars and restaurants and homes around the world, ready to kick back and relax.
This relationship with wine has a long history. The oldest known winery, dating back to 4100 B.C, was discovered in 2010 by archeologists in an Armenian cave. Wine was used in ceremonies by the Egyptians, traded by the Phoenicians, honoured by the Greek God Dionysus and the Roman God Bacchus. By 2014, humanity was consuming more than 24 million liters of wine every year globally. Now there is some fear that extreme weather events in western Europe during 2017 have reduced production substantially and prices of this high-demand commodity are set to rise.
So why is wine so popular? Aside from its flavours, and capacity to help people relax, wine has gained something of a reputation as a “healthy” alcohol — with researchers in the past noting associations between red wine drinking in France, and lower incidence of heart disease.
However, wine drinking is also known to increase risks of serious health issues, including liver cirrhosis, sudden cardiac death, alcoholic cardiomyopathies and cardiac rhythm disorders. Excessive consumption and chronic misuse of alcohol are risk factors contributing to an increase in global disease.
How does the average drinker know what to believe? And how much wine is safe? As medical researchers, we recently published an in-depth analysis of the anatomy of wine. This included analysis of the risks and benefits of consumption, comparisons with other alcoholic beverages and a discussion around wine’s much publicised health benefits.
Wine and heart disease
Modern scientific intrigue surrounding wine has grown immensely since the 1970s, when large, international studies first reported a link between light-to-moderate consumption of alcohol and lower rates of ischemic heart disease (IHD) occurrence and associated deaths. IHDs are a group of diseases characterised by a reduced blood flow to the heart, and account for significant deaths worldwide.
Similar results have been reported individually for wine, specifically red wine. This phenomenon was eventually coined “the French paradox” after Renaud and de Lorgeril, two scientists who became known for this work, observed a relatively low risk of IHD-associated mortality in red wine drinkers despite a consumption of a diet rich in saturated fat.
Does this mean red wine is good for the heart? This is a complex question and as yet there is no consensus on the answer. More than one factor needs to be considered in order to explain this situation. Drinking patterns, lifestyle characteristics and dietary intake are all important for individuals to obtain a healthy cardiovascular profile.
The Mediterranean diet has been put forward as one explanation. This diet emphasizes consumption of plant-based foods in addition to the moderate consumption of red wine and has been labeled as beneficial by scientific advisory committees.
In the Mediterranean diet, the low-consumption of saturated fat, emphasis on a healthy lifestyle, and more independently, alpha-linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) and red wine, may allow this diet to confer the much researched cardio-protective benefits.