Researchers in France have found differences in red wine drinkers' "good cholesterol," which could account for the drink's beneficial effects against cardiovascular disease.
Researchers analyzed the high-density lipoprotein composition of teetotalers, regular drinkers and heavy drinkers (most of whom generally drank red wine). They found that HDL cholesterol increased as alcohol consumption increased, and that HDL particles from wine consumers were richer in certain components that can play a protective role in cardiovascular disease.
The well-documented relationship between moderate consumption of alcohol -- particularly red wine -- and reduced risk for heart attack may be partly explained by alcohol's relationship to increased levels of HDL. The new research provides an in-depth look at that connection.
"This study provides, for the first time, a detailed characterization of HDL composition in regular drinkers," writes lead author Bertrand Perret of the French medical research institute Inserm. The study appears in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Forty-six men between ages 35 and 65 participated in the study. Their dietary patterns, including alcohol intake, were examined through a process in which a dietitian helped participants recall their food consumption over the previous three days. The men also completed an extensive questionnaire on their drinking habits. They were categorized into three groups on the basis of their self-reported alcohol consumption: teetotalers, regular drinkers (who drank less than 35 grams of alcohol each day), and heavy drinkers (who drank 35 to 60 grams of alcohol each day).
After participants fasted overnight, their blood samples were analyzed for HDL and other components related to cardiovascular disease. Researchers analyzed the nutrition data and collected information on smoking and medical history, including current blood pressure and physical activity, to mitigate the possibility that other factors caused the HDL differences in the three groups.
"Our study shows that the increase in HDL levels observed in regular drinkers is associated with an enrichment of HDL particles in polyunsaturated phospholipids, and particularly in those containing omega-3 fatty acids, an effect that might be, in itself, beneficial against cardiovascular diseases," says Perret. He calls for further research to test the possible mechanisms underlying the differences in HDL fatty acid composition observed in this study.
This study was supported by INSERM (Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, France) and by ONIVINS (Office National Inter-professionnel des Vins, France).
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