More research supports the recent revelation that drinking wine can help boost levels of heart healthy fatty acids found in fish,* adding another piece to the puzzle in our understanding of the protective effects of alcohol on heart disease. The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, takes an in-depth look at this “fish-like effect” of moderate drinking.
While it’s not completely understood how alcohol helps protect against heart disease, it is known to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation, and help thin the blood. Now it looks like it may also increase levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)—fatty acids found in fish, which are protective against heart disease and stroke. “Converging data suggest that the marine omega-3 fatty acids could be one of the mediators of the protective effect of moderate drinking,” said the authors.
The new study looked at the dietary and alcohol consumption habits of 1,457 men and women from different regions of Europe to see if alcohol intake was related to blood levels of EPA and DHA.
Drink to your health
In women, levels of both fatty acids went up with increasing alcohol consumption; in men, only EPA levels increased. When the researchers compared the effects of different types of alcohol, they found that only wine led to this increase; beer and spirits did not appear to raise EPA and DHA.
Drinking wine may help protect against heart disease, but don’t assume that more is better. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can actually break down healthy fatty acids, undoing the positive effects of drinking.
While there is no uniformly accepted definition, most health professionals agree that 4 to 14 drinks per week is “moderate drinking.” (One drink is considered one 12-ounce beer with 4.5% alcohol content or one five-ounce glass of wine with 12.9% alcohol.) Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of breast cancer (at one or more drinks per day), and can lead to dependence and other health problems. These factors have to be weighed when making a decision about what and how much to drink.
Tips for a healthy heart
• Eat right. Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and fish help keep cholesterol levels and blood pressure in check.
• Stay trim and active. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week to help lower blood pressure, raise healthy HDL cholesterol levels, and maintain a healthy weight.
• Get your zzz’s. People who get at least eight hours of sleep each night are less likely to develop risk factors for heart disease.
• Don’t smoke. Smoking increases heart disease risk; quitting smoking now can help undo the damage.
• Calm down. Practicing yoga and meditation three or more times per week can lower the risk of heart disease.
*See Healthnotes Newswire 28 February 2008.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1–9)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
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