"The current consensus is that it is not just the alcohol, but something else," said Bauer Sumpio, M.D., professor and section chief of vascular surgery in the Department of Surgery. "There are probably several mechanisms of protection from a cardiovascular viewpoint."
He said researchers have been trying to pinpoint why red wine has a cardiovascular protective effect ever since the discovery of the so-called "French Paradox" in 1992 when researchers found a 40 percent lower mortality rate from ischemic heart disease among people in France despite the high amount of saturated fats in their diet.
Sumpio said there are several studies showing drinking two to three ounces of alcohol each day has a beneficial effect, but any more than that and the alcohol begins to have a negative health effect. Studies comparing spirits, beer and wine show some benefit from spirits and beer, but an overwhelming benefit from drinking red wine.
His laboratory found polyphenols, minus the alcohol, are powerful anti-oxidants. Polyphenols also are found in fruit, particularly berries, as well as green tea and chocolate. Anti-oxidants slow cell deterioration. The polyphenols also help prevent the build up of plaque on the smooth muscle cells, as well as inhibit platelet formation, which can lead to blood clotting.
"A better understanding of the health benefits of red wine and perhaps the specific polyphenolic extracts with the described properties would be a great contribution to society," Sumpio said.
Co-authors Alfredo Cordova, M.D., La Scienya Jackson, M.D., and David Berke-Schlessel, of Yale. The research was supported in part by the North American Foundation for Limb Preservation.
J. Amer. College of Surgeons 200: 428-439 (March 2005)