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Alcohol consumption and n–3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in healthy men and women from 3 European populations
The authors of a recent study state that because high dietary and blood n–3 (omega-3) fatty acids (FAs) are protective against coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death, the alcohol-associated increase in blood n–3 FAs could be considered an original mechanism of alcohol’s cardioprotective effect. Their objective was to assess whether alcohol consumption is associated with concentrations of very-long-chain ‘‘marine’’ (e.g., fish oil) n–3 FAs both in plasma and in red blood cell membranes. In the framework of the IMMIDIET Project, 1,604 subjects (802 women-men pairs), aged 26–65 years, were enrolled in Italy, Belgium, and England. A 1-year-recall food-frequency questionnaire was used to evaluate dietary intake.

Results showed that in fully adjusted multivariate analyses, alcohol intake was positively associated with plasma eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and EPA 1 DHA concentrations in women and with EPA and the EPA + DHA index in red blood cells. In men, only plasma and red blood cell EPA concentrations were associated with alcohol intake. Stratified analyses showed an association between alcohol and both plasma and red cell EPA, DHA, and the EPA + DHA index in wine drinkers, whereas no association was found in those who drink beer and spirits. The authors conclude that alcohol intake was associated with higher plasma and red blood cell concentrations of marine n–3 FAs. Components of wine other than alcohol (polyphenols) might exert these effects. Part of the alcohol-induced cardioprotection may be mediated through increased marine n–3 FAs.

Professor R Curtis Ellison comments: ‘An increase in omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids, found to be associated with alcohol consumption, could be important from at least two perspectives: it could be a new mechanism by which alcohol or wine could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and it could be a way for people who do not like fish to get these important fatty acids. Data strongly indicate that higher levels of n-3 fatty acids are associated with less heart disease, especially reducing the risk of sudden death.

The findings support and extend previous findings by showing an increase in n-3 fatty acids among wine drinkers; there was a much less consistent relation between the consumption of beer or spirits and levels of n-3 fatty acids. This suggests that the polyphenols in wine may be playing a role in the increase in fatty acids. There were inadequate numbers of heavier consumers in this study to evaluate the effects of heavy drinking, although previous research has shown that large amounts of alcohol may decrease n-3 fatty acid levels’.

Source: Alcohol consumption and n–3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in healthy men and women from 3 European populations. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:354–362.

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