By Michael A. Smith, MD
The two cultures ate the same kinds of food, yet more Americans were dying from heart attacks than the French. He proposed the theory that red wine provided some sort of cardio-protective benefit to the French despite all of the butter and fat that they ate.
Although the theory is still debated, it’s believed that red wine’s polyphenol content provides the benefit.
However, a recent study conducted at the University of Valencia in Spain has discovered that not only does the cardio-protective benefit come from the polyphenols, but it also comes from the ethanol alcohol itself.
Red Wine Polyphenols Improve Sugar MetabolismHigh blood sugar is a risk factor for heart disease. Diabetics, for instance, are at least twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as the general population.1 As it turns out, the polyphenols in red wine may protect your heart by improving insulin function which lowers blood sugar.
Insulin resistance is when the cells of your body aren’t sensitive to the hormone, resulting in elevated blood sugar. This rise in blood sugar causes many problems, such as accelerated atherosclerosis and chronic inflammation.
Red wine polyphenols were shown to decrease insulin resistance between 22% and 30%, indicating improved insulin function. The drop in resistance occurred with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic red wine, proving that the polyphenols are responsible for the decrease in insulin resistance.2
The bottom line is this: Red wine may protect your heart by improving insulin function. This is good news for diabetics who are at risk for heart disease.
However, please don’t go crazy with this! The study participants drank only 30 grams of red wine, which is approximately one glass a day. That’s all it took.
Alcohol Increases Good CholesterolA third group of participants was not given red wine; instead they drank 30 grams of gin a day. The researchers noted that along with the group given the alcoholic red wine, they experienced an increase in HDL-cholesterol.2
Higher levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, means more fat and cholesterol is recycling back to the liver for processing and not getting “stuck” in the arterial walls.
The researchers concluded: “While ethanol [alcohol] itself exerts a protective effect on the lipid profile, the non-alcoholic fraction of red wine, mainly polyphenols, has a beneficial effect on insulin resistance.”
So when you combine the effects of the polyphenols and the ethanol, red wine is probably more cardio-protective than other types of alcoholic beverages.
Alternatives to Red Wine: Polyphenol-Rich FoodsRecognizing that some of you don’t like wine or don’t drink at all, we put together a list of polyphenol-rich foods.
Nutrition experts simply agree that these foods are abundant sources of these important nutrients. (Note: A dark color usually means more polyphenols.)
Polyphenol-rich foods (not listed in any particular order):
- Red grapes
- Purple onions
- Green, red and yellow peppers
- Soybeans and other legumes
- Rye and other whole grains
- Sweet potatoes
What do you think?
- National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Accessed 9/13/2013. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/stroke/
- G. Chiva-Blanch. “Effects of red wine polyphenols and alcohol on glucose metabolism and the lipid profile: a randomized clinical trial.” Clinical Nutrition. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2012.08.022
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