A Toast to Your Health?
It’s a popular notion that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol, especially red wine, can help prevent heart attacks. But according to the American Heart Association (AHA), there are other preferred ways to protect your heart.
I. G., MD, of the AHA’s nutrition committee, says, “Our advice is if you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, talk to your doctor about lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure, controlling your weight, getting enough exercise, and following a healthy diet. There is no scientific proof that drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage can replace these effective conventional measures.”
The hypothesis that drinking wine benefits the heart helps counteract the harmful effects of dietary fat grew out of population surveys showing lower rates of heart disease, despite high-fat diets, in parts of Europe where wine is consumed regularly. This so-called “French paradox” has created wide interest in the United States. However, this hypothesis deserves further investigation, says G.
The notion that alcohol has cardioprotective effects does, however, have some scientific basis, the AHA notes. More than 60 studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption can increase blood levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. One to two drinks per day may increase HDL by about 12 percent, an increase similar to that seen with exercise programs and cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Another theory attributes the supposed benefits of red wine to antioxidants, such as vitamin E. Yet there is still no proof that consuming antioxidants actually lowers the risk of heart disease. Besides, the same antioxidants can be found in many fruits and vegetables.
You should weigh the proposed benefits of alcohol consumption against the negative effects, such as raising your risk of breast cancer, stroke, diabetes complications, and alcohol addiction, the AHA warns. Until alcohol’s protective effect can actually be proven, you would be wiser to place an emphasis on maintaining proper body weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, and not smoking.
Sources: American Heart Association
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