In the 1990s research began in earnest into the so-called French Paradox. This statistical riddle sought to understand why the French – whose diet is full of fats – have a remarkably low incidence of heart disease. While the entire idea is still largely controversial, the prevailing theory caught people’s attention and the concept stuck. After all, who wouldn’t be excited to hear that wine is good for your heart?
Still, research has no been totally unable to prove or explain the supposed protective role that wine consumption can have on heart health. Even though many “experts” have been touting wine as a protective measure in the decades since the theory first emerged, the hard science has been largely inconclusive.
In fact, some of the more exciting studies in to the subject were just plain flawed. For example, early buzz surrounded findings that resveratrol – a substance in red wine – was the key to its cardiac benefits. What many people didn’t know, however, is that the mice used in the study were given megadoses of the compound that were several thousand times larger than any human would ever get from drinking red wine. Additional studies also failed to support these preliminary reports.
But a statistical link between moderate wine consumption and heart health persisted. A recent study from the European Society of Cardiology seems to finally shed some light on this subject.
In Vino Veritas
The study (called In Vino Veritas) followed 146 people for a full year. All of the subjects in the study had a mild to moderate risk of cardiovascular disease and were assigned to drink either red or white wine for the course of the study. Just for the sake of continuity, all of the wine was from the same area and produced in the same year. The participants were told not to change their diets and asked to keep a log on their consumption of wine and other alcohols, as well as use of medicine and exercise.
At the end of the year, the subjects’ HDL and LDL levels were taken along with other markers for hardening of the arteries. Surprisingly, there was no change in HDL levels at the end of the study regardless what kind of wine they had been enjoying. A rise in HDL would have indicated better heart health. However, LDL levels had lowered slightly in both groups, which is a fairly good sign. Only the red wine group saw a decrease in total cholesterol, though.
Overall, then, wine consumption does not have as powerful an influence on cardiovascular health as we were all so ready to believe. There was an interesting subgroup, though, that did see improvements in HDL, LDL and total cholesterol: regular exercisers. This group experienced positive results despite what type of wine they had been assigned.
While the exact mechanisms that make wine and exercise work together in this regard are not yet fully understood, the take-away is still pretty clear. Wine does have some positive effects on the heart but only when you also exercise regularly. Just don’t do them at the same time.