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WebMD Feature

Indeed, the year 2000 was a very good year for wine makers -- and not just because it brought a bumper crop of cabernets, zinfandels, and chardonnays. Evidence of the far-reaching health benefits of wine continued to pour in from researchers around the world.

Here's a review of the good news for wine makers -- and wine lovers:

A Healthier Heart

Several reports in 2000 confirmed the glad tidings that wine -- in moderation, of course -- reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. In the September issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, for instance, Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute reported that, compared to teetotalers, light drinkers who consumed wine cut their risk of dying prematurely by almost one third, and wine drinkers as a group had significantly lower mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Actually, drinking any kind of alcoholic beverage helped, the scientists found. But by far the biggest benefit accrued to wine drinkers.

What's more, scientists are beginning to understand how wine may bestow its salutary benefits. For starters, according to findings published in the January 2000 issue of European Heart Journal, this most ancient of beverages appears to dilate arteries and increase blood flow, thus lowering the risk of the kind of clots that cut off blood supply and damage heart muscles.

In addition, the fruit of the vine appears to boost levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol, and helps prevent LDL, or bad cholesterol, from causing damage to the lining of arteries. In a study published in the May 2000 issue of the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior, scientists at the Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine in Amsterdam tested 275 men and women around the age of 32. Those who imbibed the equivalent of a glass or two of wine each day had significantly higher levels of "good" cholesterol because they remove the "bad" artery-clogging LDLs before they have a chance to choke blood vessels. Indeed, wine seems to facilitate that process, making it easier for HDLs to hustle their dangerous counterparts out of the bloodstream.

Yet even when LDLs remain behind in the arteries, substances in wine called phenols appear to help prevent the bad cholesterol from causing injury. In the November 2000 Journal of Nutrition and Biochemistry, Italian researchers from the National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research reported that phenols seem to limit the oxidation of LDLs, making them less capable of damaging the linings of arteries and, therefore, less able to set the stage for cardiovascular disease, like heart disease and stroke.

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