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How Red Wine Helps the Heart

Resveratrol in Red Wine May Prevent Immature Fat Cells From Maturing
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By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 21, 2010 -- How does drinking red wine manage to keep the cardiologist at bay? Two studies suggest different approaches as to how merlots and cabernet sauvignons and other types of red wine offer heart-healthy benefits.

In the first of two studies published in the July issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists at the University of Ulm, Germany, investigated the biological behaviors of resveratrol in human fat cell biology. Resveratrol is found in the skins of red grapes and has been shown to be a potent biological agent that may offer protection against cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers hypothesized that resveratrol might decrease obesity by preventing immature fat cells from fully maturing, and also help activate sirtuin 1 (Sirt 1), a protein that protects the heart from inflammation.

Laboratory tests conducted in vitro on human cells, in which cells were managed in a control environment, such as a petri dish, showed that resveratrol influenced fat cells' form and function. Resveratrol blocked immature fat cells from developing and differentiating, which, in turn, affected the fat cells' abilities to function. Several studies have used animals to examine resveratrol's effects, but this is one of the first to use human fat cells.

They also found that resveratrol stimulated glucose uptake into human fat cells and blocked molecules from converting into fat. Moreover, resveratrol influenced Sirt1 in a beneficial way and it also affected the secretion of adipokines, fat cells that engage in cell-to-cell communication. The findings indicate that resveratrol might interfere with obesity and other metabolic effects that could increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers suggest resveratrol could offer some therapeutic opportunities in the treatment of obesity, which is quite prevalent in the industrialized world. Reducing obesity, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, may also help improve heart health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 1.6 billion people age 15 and older who are overweight -- meaning they have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher -- and at least 400 million people who are obese, meaning their BMI is 30 or higher. The WHO projects that in five years there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults and more than 700 million obese adults.

"Our findings open up the new perspective that resveratrol-induced intracellular pathways could be a target for prevention or treatment of obesity-associated endocrine and metabolic adverse effects," the authors write. "Resveratrol may act on different levels of cell signaling."

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