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Heart Disease Health Center

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Alcohol May Fight Heart Attack Damage

Small Doses of Alcohol May Reduce Damage to Blood Vessels

WebMD Health News

Sept. 3, 2004 -- The heart-healthy benefits of wine may go beyond reducing the risk of a heart attack. A new study suggests the alcohol found in wine as well as beer and liquor reduces the damage that occurs after a heart attack.

Blood flow throughout the body is impaired during a heart attack, but researchers say that even after a heart attack, once the body continues to receive normal blood flow, damage occurs to blood vessels. This is because after a heart attack, infection-fighting white blood cells stick to damaged vessel walls, causing inflammation and damage.

But researchers found injecting a small amount of alcohol in mice made the walls less sticky and prevented the white blood cells from attaching to the damaged tissues.

Alcohol May Reduce Heart Attack Damage

In the study, researchers injected some mice with alcohol at the rate of one drink every 48 hours and then induced low blood flow to damage their blood vessels.

Researchers say that during a heart attack, the damaged tissues release a variety of substances that attract the white blood cells to the affected areas. One of those substances is called P-selectin, which makes the walls of the blood vessels sticky and allows the white blood cells to attach and cause inflammation.

The study showed that levels of P-selectin increased twofold in the mice that did not receive alcohol, but these levels did not increase in mice treated with alcohol.

Instead, mice treated with alcohol had less tissue damage than untreated mice.

The results of the study are scheduled for publication this fall in the journal Microcirculation.

But researchers say the study should not be interpreted as an excuse to drink a lot of alcohol. Most health organizations recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink for women in order to maximize the heart-healthy benefits and minimize risks.

"Every time you take a drink of alcohol, you're killing brain cells," says researcher Ronald Korthuis, MD, of the University of Missouri-Columbia, in a news release. "We're trying to identify these chemical reactions so that we can develop a drug that would start this chain reaction, but not have the side effects of alcohol."

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