Cardiovascular System

Throughout the developed world, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and accounts for up to 50% of all deaths. Considering this, it is of outmost relevance that epidemiological studies are showing consistently a reduced mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) and other forms of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) by 25-30% in middle-aged and elderly individuals.

Moderate wine drinkers seem to live longer than those who abstain or drink heavily. This widely accepted association is known as the J-curve. The relative risk of dying from CVD is lowest among light to moderate drinkers and greater among abstainers. However, the risk increases steadily with each drink above moderation. Thus, while one or two glasses can be considered “good for your health”, drinking more than the guidelines will not provide more benefits, only more harm!

In a recent most comprehensive meta-analysis, an international research team examined results from 84 longitudinal cohort studies from all over the world comparing drinkers of alcoholic beverages with non-drinkers for the outcomes of overall mortality and mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke as well as incident coronary heart disease and incident stroke.
Meta-analyses for each of these outcomes were performed. The researchers carefully accounted for possible confounding factors.

As result, the cardiovascular mortality risk for drinkers of alcoholic beverages compared to non-drinkers was significantly reduced by 25%. Dose-response analysis revealed that the lowest risk of coronary heart disease mortality occurred with 15-30 g of alcohol a day but for stroke mortality ≤ 15 g of alcohol a day. Very importantly, also with regards to all cause mortality, moderate drinkers had an advantage compared to abstinent individuals: up to 15 g/day, their total mortality risk was 13% lower.
The scientists concluded that light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of multiple cardiovascular outcomes and total mortality and further, they suggested that current scientific data indicate causality.

The results of another meta-analysis concerning the biochemical and physiological mechanisms showed that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages (up to 15 g alcohol a day for women and up to 30 g alcohol a day for men) has beneficial effects on a variety of biomarkers linked to the risk of coronary heart disease.

 

Mechanisms

Approximately half of the cardio-protective effects of wine are believed to be due to alcohol itself since it has a beneficial effect on blood lipids.

Vascular disease occurs when bad cholesterol (LDL) is deposited in artery walls and builds up atherosclerotic deposits, eventually rupturing, causing a clot to form which can instantaneously block mostly or completely the flow through the coronary artery. Alcohol stimulates the production of the “good” high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) which is believed to remove cholesterol deposits from arteries and veins where it can form plaques.

It also reduces the “stickiness” or the clotting together of red blood cells which could form a clot and block the blood flow in an artery (thrombosis) resulting in a heart attack or stroke. In addition, it lowers the fibrinogen level which is a pro-inflammatory, thus alcohol works as an anti-inflammatory agent that affects the blood vessels positively and is involved in delaying the development of atherosclerosis.

Wine, in addition, contains phenolic substances
such as resveratrol, anthocyanins, flavonols and catechins which act as antioxidants and inhibit “bad” LDL cholesterol from being incorporated in the artery wall. These antioxidants also reduce the damage caused by the body's free radicals (toxic waste products) which contribute to causing degenerative diseases in the body such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and ageing. Furthermore, rather than the phenolic compounds themselves, their metabolites might be the real key players in cardiovascular and cancer protection. It should be noted that the antioxidant activity in unfermented grape juice is lower than in the finished wine - antioxidant activity increases during fermentation and maturation. Antioxidant levels will depend on the processing, filtering as well as on the variety, vintage, altitude and soil.

The phenolic compounds are also associated with reducing blood clotting and also maintaining the ability of the blood vessel wall to expand and contract.

The findings described in
the above quoted meta-analyses provide the most thorough examination of the literature and strengthen the case for a causal link between alcohol intake and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, suggesting that the lower risk of heart disease observed among moderate drinkers is caused by the alcoholic beverage itself, and not by other associated lifestyle factors. The scientific evidence is very convincing that regular moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, in particular wine,  can provide cardiovascular benefits in older adults.

 

Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) occurs when vessel walls lose their flexibility causing excess pressure on arterial walls. If the elevated blood pressure is not reduced, the risk of heart disease, stroke, visual loss, and kidney failure increases. Early detection and treatment is lifesaving. The treatment often involves a modification of lifestyle. It has been a general, long-held belief that consumption of alcoholic beverages, in any form, in any quantity, raises blood pressure, and, therefore, many of those at risk have been advised not to drink at all.

Epidemiological studies suggest a lower risk of morbidity and mortality among lighter drinkers. The investigators found that the association between intake of alcoholic beverages and risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) followed a J-shaped curve, whereas  alcohol drinking is linearly associated with blood pressure, and the CVD risk also increases  linearly according to blood pressure level.  However, several studies indicate that moderate wine consumption does not increase or can even decrease blood pressure. This effect seems mostly due to relaxed blood vessels immediately after consuming alcoholic beverages.
The non-alcoholic elements of wine, such as polyphenols may have additional antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and blood vessel relaxant properties.

International comparisons and some prospective research data suggest that wine is more protective against coronary heart disease (CHD) than liquor or beer. Possibly beneficial non-alcohol compo­nents in wine may exert the extra protection by wine, but a healthier drinking pattern or more favorable risk traits in wine drinkers (such as a healthier lifestyle) may be involved. Heavy drinking or a binge drinking pattern definitely associated with an increased risk of hypertension. Reducing the intake of alcoholic beverages to moderate levels often leads to substantial reduction of elevated blood pressure.

The above summary provides an overview of the topic, for more details and specific questions, please refer to the articles in the database.

BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: Low/moderate alcohol consumption seems to be protective against cardiovascular disease (CVD). This study aimed to investigate the association of wine/beer consumption with the 10-year CVD incidence. SUBJECTS/METHODS: During 2001-2002, 3042 CVD-free adults consented to participate in the ATTICA study; of them 2583 completed the 10-year follow-up (85% participation rate), but precise information about fatal/nonfatal CVD incidence (myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, cardiac ischemia, heart failure, chronic arrhythmias, and stroke) was available in 2020 participants (overall retention rate 66%). Alcohol/ethanol intake and the alcoholic beverages consumed were assessed; participants were categorized into three groups (no use; 1 glass/week). RESULTS: Alcohol drinking was reported by 56% of the participants who did not develop a CVD event and 49% of those who had…
BACKGROUND: Studies have shown that alcohol intake trajectories differ in their associations with biomarkers of cardiovascular functioning, but it remains unclear if they also differ in their relationship to actual coronary heart disease (CHD) incidence. Using multiple longitudinal cohort studies, we evaluated the association between long-term alcohol consumption trajectories and CHD. METHODS: Data were drawn from six cohorts (five British and one French). The combined analytic sample comprised 35,132 individuals (62.1% male; individual cohorts ranging from 869 to 14,247 participants) of whom 4.9% experienced an incident (fatal or non-fatal) CHD event. Alcohol intake across three assessment periods of each cohort was used to determine participants' intake trajectories over approximately 10 years. Time to onset for (i) incident CHD and (ii)…
BACKGROUND: Excessive alcohol intake has been shown to be associated with cardiovascular disease via metabolic pathways. However, the relationship between alcohol intake and obesity has not been fully elucidated. We aimed to examine the association of alcohol consumption with fat deposition and anthropometric measures. METHODS: From 2006-2008, we conducted a cross-sectional study in a population-based sample of Japanese men aged 40 to 79 years. Areas of abdominal visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) were calculated using computed tomography imaging. Based on a questionnaire, we classified participants into five groups according to weekly alcohol consumption, excluding former drinkers: non-drinkers (0 g/week), 0.1-160.9, 161-321.9, 322-482.9 and >==483 g/week. Multivariable linear regression was used to estimate adjusted means of obesity…
Moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a lower risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) in the general population but has not been well studied in US veterans. We obtained self-reported alcohol consumption from Million Veteran Program participants. Using electronic health records, CAD events were defined as 1 inpatient or 2 outpatient diagnosis codes for CAD, or 1 code for a coronary procedure. We excluded participants with prevalent CAD (n = 69,995) or incomplete alcohol information (n = 8,449). We used a Cox proportional hazards model to estimate hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for CAD, adjusting for age, gender, body mass index, race, smoking, education, and exercise. Among 156,728 participants, the mean age was 65.3 years (standard deviation =…
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the role of alcohol as a causal factor for intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) and whether its effects might vary according to the pathogenic mechanisms underlying cerebral bleeding. METHODS: We performed a case-control analysis, comparing a cohort of consecutive white patients with ICH aged 55 years and older with a group of age- and sex-matched stroke-free controls, enrolled in the setting of the Multicenter Study on Cerebral Haemorrhage in Italy (MUCH-Italy) between 2002 and 2014. Participants were dichotomized into excessive drinkers (>45 g of alcohol) and light to moderate drinkers or nondrinkers. To isolate the unconfounded effect of alcohol on ICH, we used causal directed acyclic graphs and the back-door criterion to select a minimal sufficient adjustment set(s) of…
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