Cardiovascular System

Throughout the developed world, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and accounts for up to 50% of all deaths. Considering this, it is of outmost relevance that epidemiological studies are showing consistently a reduced mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) and other forms of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) by 25-30% in middle-aged and elderly individuals.

Moderate wine drinkers seem to live longer than those who abstain or drink heavily. This widely accepted association is known as the J-curve. The relative risk of dying from CVD is lowest among light to moderate drinkers and greater among abstainers. However, the risk increases steadily with each drink above moderation. Thus, while one or two glasses can be considered “good for your health”, drinking more than the guidelines will not provide more benefits, only more harm!

In a recent most comprehensive meta-analysis, an international research team examined results from 84 longitudinal cohort studies from all over the world comparing drinkers of alcoholic beverages with non-drinkers for the outcomes of overall mortality and mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke as well as incident coronary heart disease and incident stroke.
Meta-analyses for each of these outcomes were performed. The researchers carefully accounted for possible confounding factors.

As result, the cardiovascular mortality risk for drinkers of alcoholic beverages compared to non-drinkers was significantly reduced by 25%. Dose-response analysis revealed that the lowest risk of coronary heart disease mortality occurred with 15-30 g of alcohol a day but for stroke mortality ≤ 15 g of alcohol a day. Very importantly, also with regards to all cause mortality, moderate drinkers had an advantage compared to abstinent individuals: up to 15 g/day, their total mortality risk was 13% lower.
The scientists concluded that light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of multiple cardiovascular outcomes and total mortality and further, they suggested that current scientific data indicate causality.

The results of another meta-analysis concerning the biochemical and physiological mechanisms showed that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages (up to 15 g alcohol a day for women and up to 30 g alcohol a day for men) has beneficial effects on a variety of biomarkers linked to the risk of coronary heart disease.

 

Mechanisms

Approximately half of the cardio-protective effects of wine are believed to be due to alcohol itself since it has a beneficial effect on blood lipids.

Vascular disease occurs when bad cholesterol (LDL) is deposited in artery walls and builds up atherosclerotic deposits, eventually rupturing, causing a clot to form which can instantaneously block mostly or completely the flow through the coronary artery. Alcohol stimulates the production of the “good” high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) which is believed to remove cholesterol deposits from arteries and veins where it can form plaques.

It also reduces the “stickiness” or the clotting together of red blood cells which could form a clot and block the blood flow in an artery (thrombosis) resulting in a heart attack or stroke. In addition, it lowers the fibrinogen level which is a pro-inflammatory, thus alcohol works as an anti-inflammatory agent that affects the blood vessels positively and is involved in delaying the development of atherosclerosis.

Wine, in addition, contains phenolic substances
such as resveratrol, anthocyanins, flavonols and catechins which act as antioxidants and inhibit “bad” LDL cholesterol from being incorporated in the artery wall. These antioxidants also reduce the damage caused by the body's free radicals (toxic waste products) which contribute to causing degenerative diseases in the body such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and ageing. Furthermore, rather than the phenolic compounds themselves, their metabolites might be the real key players in cardiovascular and cancer protection. It should be noted that the antioxidant activity in unfermented grape juice is lower than in the finished wine - antioxidant activity increases during fermentation and maturation. Antioxidant levels will depend on the processing, filtering as well as on the variety, vintage, altitude and soil.

The phenolic compounds are also associated with reducing blood clotting and also maintaining the ability of the blood vessel wall to expand and contract.

The findings described in
the above quoted meta-analyses provide the most thorough examination of the literature and strengthen the case for a causal link between alcohol intake and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, suggesting that the lower risk of heart disease observed among moderate drinkers is caused by the alcoholic beverage itself, and not by other associated lifestyle factors. The scientific evidence is very convincing that regular moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, in particular wine,  can provide cardiovascular benefits in older adults.

 

Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) occurs when vessel walls lose their flexibility causing excess pressure on arterial walls. If the elevated blood pressure is not reduced, the risk of heart disease, stroke, visual loss, and kidney failure increases. Early detection and treatment is lifesaving. The treatment often involves a modification of lifestyle. It has been a general, long-held belief that consumption of alcoholic beverages, in any form, in any quantity, raises blood pressure, and, therefore, many of those at risk have been advised not to drink at all.

Epidemiological studies suggest a lower risk of morbidity and mortality among lighter drinkers. The investigators found that the association between intake of alcoholic beverages and risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) followed a J-shaped curve, whereas  alcohol drinking is linearly associated with blood pressure, and the CVD risk also increases  linearly according to blood pressure level.  However, several studies indicate that moderate wine consumption does not increase or can even decrease blood pressure. This effect seems mostly due to relaxed blood vessels immediately after consuming alcoholic beverages.
The non-alcoholic elements of wine, such as polyphenols may have additional antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and blood vessel relaxant properties.

International comparisons and some prospective research data suggest that wine is more protective against coronary heart disease (CHD) than liquor or beer. Possibly beneficial non-alcohol compo­nents in wine may exert the extra protection by wine, but a healthier drinking pattern or more favorable risk traits in wine drinkers (such as a healthier lifestyle) may be involved. Heavy drinking or a binge drinking pattern definitely associated with an increased risk of hypertension. Reducing the intake of alcoholic beverages to moderate levels often leads to substantial reduction of elevated blood pressure.

The above summary provides an overview of the topic, for more details and specific questions, please refer to the articles in the database.

INTRODUCTION: Health benefits of low-to-moderate alcohol consumption may operate through an improved lipid profile. A Mendelian randomization (MR) approach was used to examine whether alcohol consumption causally affects lipid levels. METHODS: This analysis involved 10,893 European Americans (EA) from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Common and rare variants in alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase genes were evaluated for MR assumptions. Five variants, residing in the ADH1B, ADH1C, and ADH4 genes, were selected as genetic instruments and were combined into an unweighted genetic score. Triglycerides (TG), total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-c) and its subfractions (HDL2-c and HDL3-c), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-c), small dense LDL-c (sdLDL-c), apolipoprotein B (apoB), and lipoprotein (a) (Lp(a)) levels were analyzed. RESULTS: Alcohol consumption…
Mendelian randomisation studies from Asia suggest detrimental influences of alcohol on cardiovascular risk factors, but such associations are observed mainly in men. The absence of associations of genetic variants (e.g. rs671 in ALDH2) with such risk factors in women - who drank little in these populations - provides evidence that the observations are not due to genetic pleiotropy. Here, we present a Mendelian randomisation study in a South Korean population (3,365 men and 3,787 women) that 1) provides robust evidence that alcohol consumption adversely affects several cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood pressure, waist to hip ratio, fasting blood glucose and triglyceride levels. Alcohol also increases HDL cholesterol and lowers LDL cholesterol. Our study also 2) replicates sex differences in…
BACKGROUND: We analyzed the association between light-to-moderate alcohol intake and the risk of heart failure (HF). METHODS AND RESULTS: We studied 60,665 individuals free of HF who provided information on alcohol consumption in a population-based cohort study conducted in 1995-97 in Norway. Sociodemographic factors, cardiovascular risk factors and common chronic disorders were assessed by questionnaires and/or by a clinical examination. The cohort was followed for a first HF event for an average of 11.2+/-3.0years. Mean alcohol consumption was 2.95+/-4.5g/day; 1588 HF cases occurred during follow-up. The quantity of alcohol consumption was inversely associated with incident HF in this low-drinking population. The risk was lowest for consumption over three but less than six drinks/week; the multivariate hazard ratio when comparing this…
OBJECTIVE: We undertook a population-based, case-control study to examine a dose-response relationship between alcohol intake and risk of ischemic stroke in Koreans who had different alcoholic beverage type preferences than Western populations and to examine the effect modifications by sex and ischemic stroke subtypes. METHODS: Cases (n = 1,848) were recruited from patients aged 20 years or older with first-ever ischemic stroke. Stroke-free controls (n = 3,589) were from the fourth and fifth Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and were matched to the cases by age (+/-3 years), sex, and education level. All participants completed an interview using a structured questionnaire about alcohol intake. RESULTS: Light to moderate alcohol intake, 3 or 4 drinks (1 drink = 10…
BACKGROUND: We assessed the still unclear effect of the overall alcohol-drinking pattern, beyond the amount of alcohol consumed, on the incidence of cardiovascular clinical disease (CVD). METHODS: We followed 14,651 participants during up to 14 years. We built a score assessing simultaneously seven dimensions of alcohol consumption to capture the conformity to a traditional Mediterranean alcohol-drinking pattern (MADP). It positively scored moderate alcohol intake, alcohol intake spread out over the week, low spirit consumption, preference for wine, red wine consumption, wine consumed during meals and avoidance of binge drinking. RESULTS: During 142,177 person-years of follow-up, 127 incident cases of CVD (myocardial infarction, stroke or cardiovascular mortality) were identified. Compared with the category of better conformity with the MADP, the low-adherence…

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