The Magic of Grapes, Wine & Nuts

We’ve all heard that moderate wine consumption can be beneficial for heart health. While most of us interpret this as giving us permission to enjoy that glass of red wine with dinner and think nothing more of it, the real hero behind the scenes may be a naturally-occurring compound in that wine called resveratrol (RS).  Resveratrol is found in grapes, grape products and other sources, such as nuts.

A new study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compiling over a decade of research in animal models, supports the claim that RS benefits heart health. Furthermore, it goes on to identify specific ways in which RS combats atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up in the arteries, thereby reducing risks for cardiovascular disease.

The authors describe several ways in which RS appears to benefit cardiovascular health.  These include: altering cholesterol levels, providing antioxidant action on damaging free-radicals, and acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.

With respect to cholesterol, the paper looked at thirteen years of animal research, with each study involving RS added to the diets of rats or rabbits. The study methods varied and their durations ranged from 6 days to 20 weeks. General conclusions of resveratrol’s impact on cholesterol varied; from being extremely effective in lowering cholesterol to having little or no impact at all.

However, in a significant number of studies, RS was shown to change cholesterol in a way that benefits heart health. For example, the longest study at 20 weeks, showed a reduction in the “bad” cholesterol LDL, an increase in HDL, or the “good” cholesterol, and an overall lower cholesterol level in animals supplemented with RS compared to the control group. While HDL carries artery-clogging cholesterol to the liver to be processed and eliminated from the body, high LDL cholesterol can lead to the kind of plaque build up that subsequently causes heart attacks.  While we cannot automatically assume results seen in animal studies will translate into the same outcomes for humans, this research is nonetheless promising and offers some insight into how red wine may exert its observed cardiovascular health benefits.

RS has important antioxidant properties as well, according to research where rat diets were supplemented with RS. Antioxidants, found naturally in fruits and vegetables with deep rich colors, helps prevent chronic diseases and even cancers by reducing cellular damage done through natural bodily processes, such as breathing and energy metabolism, that causes cells’ DNA to mutate and have impaired function.

Finally, RS has been shown to suppress inflammation by cutting off the chain reaction that produces inflammatory chemicals in the body. This is significant because inflammation is associated with the progression of atherosclerosis, the fatty plaque build up that leads to stiff, narrow arteries, and ultimately, heart attacks and strokes.

Resveratrol is starting to be marketed in pill form as a heart-healthy dietary supplement, but since there is limited research into whether supplemental RS has the same benefits in humans as it does in animals, it’s difficult to say whether these pills are effective or just a waste of money.  Furthermore, the limited scientific evidence makes it impossible to know what an effective supplemental dose would even be in people. So until the science catches up, many experts suggest sticking to the occasional glass of red wine to get your resveratrol fix, and be sure to toast “to your health”!


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