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Scientists discover why red wine prevents heart disease

Scientists at a London university may have discovered the final piece in the jigsaw that is the mystery of the French Paradox.

It has been known for years that red wine contains polyphenols, which are vital in the prevention of many ailments from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s.

Now researchers at Queen Mary College have found that red wine polyphenols block production of a natural chemical called endothelin-1. This chemical is an important factor in heart disease because it causes blood vessels to contract, increasing blood pressure and the danger of a heart attack. The same tests carried out on mammals with white wine or rosé extracts had no effect.

Cabernet Sauvignon was found to be the most potent blocker of endothelin-1. Professor Roger Corder, who led the research team, told decanter.com he used 23 bottles of different wines from around the world – bought locally and on holiday in France.

‘Cabernet did the best, and Chianti did very well. It didn’t matter whether it was vin de table or the top Bordeaux – all red wine is effective. One of the best was an Argentinian Cabernet which was so potent you’d only need a couple of tablespoons to have an effect.’

The French Paradox was a term coined in the 1990s to describe the phenomenon whereby the French, who eat many more saturated fats than their neighbours in the rest of Europe, suffer a lower incidence of heart disease.

It was thought that antioxidants in the red wine which the French also consume in enthusiastic quantity were responsible. But Professor Corder said, ‘We think the effect we describe is completely unrelated to any antioxidant properties of polyphenols.’

Professor Corder also warned that no one should take this to mean that drinking more red wine would save you from a heart attack. ‘The changes that alcohol causes are so modest that you would not in your right mind believe that they could protect you from heart disease.’

He added that he would like to see a lifestyle encouraged in which you had ‘a couple of glasses of red wine with your evening meal or your lunch, and alcohol consumption other than that should be avoided.’

Written by Adam Lechmere20 December 2001

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