For those red wine drinkers who’ve been feeling morally superior about all the health benefits of the relaxing glass or two sipped during dinner, there’s some bad news on the horizon. Turns out, those glasses of wine would be a lot healthier if they were non-alcoholic, a new study shows.
Spanish researchers led by Gemma Chiva-Blanch of the University of Barcelona found that non-alcoholic red wine reduced blood pressure in men at high risk for heart disease better than standard red wine or gin, according to the study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation Research.
Although the reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure was modest, decreases of just 4 and 2 mm Hg have been associated with a 14 to 20 percent reduction in heart disease and stroke, the researchers pointed out. “The daily consumption of dealcoholized red wine could be useful for the prevention of low to moderate hypertension,” they concluded.
Although there have been many studies on the impact of moderate drinking on health, the findings have been mixed, with some studies showing a benefit and others suggesting none. The new study found that 3 ounces of gin a day had no impact on blood pressure, while consumption of regular red wine led to a small, but not statistically significant, improvement.
The new study suggests that if you’re going to have a drink, red wine would be the healthiest choice, said Dr. Kelly Anne Spratt, a heart disease prevention specialist and a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Still, Spratt said, “while there are those of us in cardiology who believe in the benefits of red wine, we want to be wary. We’re not going like gangbusters recommending people go out and start drinking. There are a lot of problems associated with drinking, like weight gain, cardiomyopathy, alcoholism, an increased breast cancer risk in women who consume two or more drinks a day.”
Chiva-Blanch and her colleagues suspect that blood pressure improvements were due to the impact of polyphenols, a red wine component, on nitric oxide. The theory is that nitric oxide molecules help blood vessels relax, which allows better flow and more blood to reach the heart and other organs.
For the new study, Chiva-Blanch and her colleagues followed 67 men with diabetes or three or more cardiovascular risk factors. During the study, the men were all required to consume the same foods along with one of three drinks: 10 ounces of red wine, 10 ounces of non-alcoholic red wine or 3 ounces of gin. During the 12 week study, the men tried each diet/beverage combination for four weeks at a time.
The researchers determined that the standard red wine and its nonalcoholic counterpart contained equal amounts of polyphenols, an antioxidant which has been shown to decrease blood pressure.
Men who drank regular red wine saw minor reductions in blood pressure – too small, in fact, to be statistically significant. Those who drank gin with their meals saw no change in blood pressure. But men who drank non-alcoholic red wine saw a blood pressure decrease of about 6 mm Hg in systolic and 2 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure.
Chiva-Blanch and her colleagues concluded that their findings show that the alcohol in red wine actually weakens its ability to lower blood pressure.
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