An recent article written by AC Cordova reviews the cardiovascular effects of wine and alcohol. Red wine and its polyphenolic content present many protective characteristics against cardiovascular disease. These are associated with their capability to prevent lipid oxidation, inhibit smooth muscle cell proliferation, modulate platelet adhesiveness, enhance HDL serum levels, and produce vasorelaxation.
Attempts to determine which of the 8,000 specific polyphenolic compounds known to exist in nature are responsible for these effects have been the impetus for a multitude of studies. Caffeic acid and protocatechuic acid seem to have the most potent antioxidant effects, resveratrol and quercitin have the highest activity in platelet adhesiveness modulation, and resveratrol may have the strongest antiproliferative potential. Additional research to determine the exact compounds and doses required, perhaps acting synergistically, to improve their cardioprotective effects is needed. It may be that the total spectrum of red wine phenolics is necessary, perhaps in the presence of ethanol. This combination has already been proved to share activity in modulating platelet aggregation and elevating the levels of HDL cholesterol. Although phenolics may undergo chemical modifications once absorbed into the bloodstream, such as glycosylation, methylation, or glucoronidation, their availability and capability to exert biologic activity still remain. In this manner, red wine is capable of playing an important cardiovascular protective role.
The beneficial aspects of polyphenols do not seem to be limited to the cardiovascular system. Recent studies have found potential use in cellular membrane protection, delay of Alzheimer’s disease progression, and also as an anticancer agent; it has been observed to have antiproliferative effects on various cancer cell lines including squamous cell carcinoma, human breast cancer, and different human leukemias.
The authors conclude that a better understanding of the health benefits of red wine and perhaps the specific polyphenolic extracts with the described properties is still needed. Meanwhile, the evidence is highly compelling that moderate and regular red wine consumption of one or two glasses per day can lower our risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease.
Source: Cordova AC, Jackson LSM, Berke-Schlessel DW, Sumpio BE. The cardiovascular protective effect of red wine. J Am Coll Surg. 2005;200:428-439.