“Your Weekly Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive.
Humans have been drinking wine for almost 10,000 years. We presently consume more than 6 billion gallons annually. (My wife and I add to those billions most evenings at dinner!) In addition to flavor, taste, “nose,” and relaxation properties, wine—and light/moderate alcohol consumption in general—has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and in particular, a reduction in ischemic heart disease, which is the atherosclerotic process that causes angina and heart attacks. But, like many things that are good for us, drinking wine is a two-edged sword: excessive alcohol consumption can trigger liver and heart damage, abnormal heart rhythms, and sudden death. The Holiday Heart is a well-known syndrome of heart rhythm problems on Monday after a weekend of excessive imbibing. Drinking patterns, diet, and lifestyle choices such as exercise are important variables for individuals to consider when seeking a healthy cardiovascular risk profile.
What is it in red wine that may be good for the heart? Red wine contains more than 500 chemical substances. One of them, polyphenols, appears to exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, both of which figure prominently in helping prevent development of ischemic heart disease. In addition, polyphenols reduce the bad (LDL) cholesterol, elevate the good (HDL) cholesterol, increase insulin sensitivity, and reduce blood pressure. There may be other unknown benefits as well.
How much wine should you drink? While adverse effects result with excessive or binge consumption of wine or alcohol, low to moderate intake appears to reduce ischemic heart disease and mortality. The American Heart Association recommends one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, with one drink defined as 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or one ounce of 100-proof spirits. Perhaps Americans should contemplate moving to Canada because the Canadian Center for Addiction and Mental Health considers low-risk alcohol consumption to be up to three drinks per day for men and two for women, with one drink defined as 12 ounces of 5 percent beer, five ounces of 12 percent wine, and 1.5 ounces of 40 percent spirits.
These inconsistent guidelines make counselling difficult. Given the broad range noted above, I would recommend erring on the low side, but, as Oscar Wilde said years ago, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
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