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Prescription: Pleasure

Doctors have long wondered why red wine lovers are less likely to develop heart disease. An English research team offers a new theory.

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Best taken in moderation

Polyphenols, endothelins and heart disease are the last things most people want to think about when tipping a glass of nice red wine.

But for drinkers whose connoisseurship tips toward health, rather than the juice itself, there is interesting news from the Royal London School of Medicine and William Harvey Research Institute.

Scientists there think they have finally cracked the mystery of why red wine drinkers are less likely to develop heart disease.

In France and Mediterranean countries, people consume about the same amount of fat each day as the English and Germans, yet they suffer half as many heart attacks.

It’s long been thought that the Mediterranean taste for red wine is the reason, but the chemistry of it has been a mystery.

Now, the focus is on polyphenols, chemicals which block the production of endothelin, a protein linked to heart disease.

Endothelins play a role in constricting blood vessels, harming circulation and in extreme cases stopping it altogether.

Roger Corder, one of the British scientists, said their research shows high polyphenol content in red grape skins and seeds.

"Huge potential"

One or two glasses of red wine per day “could have a huge potential for protection against coronary heart disease,” he told Reuters.

Sorry, white wine lovers. Sorry, beer lovers, too. It’s the polyphenol – not the alcohol – that seems to fight endothelin and thereby boost circulation.

There may be something to the old, less scientific idea that drinking itself – because of alcohol’s ability to “calm” the body – is curative. But drinking also seems to be addictive, so moderation is prescribed.

The tests in London were performed on samples with ethanol, wine’s intoxicating element, extracted.

Of 23 red wines tested, Cabernet Sauvignon countered endothelin most effectively.

“Of the top six wins at least four of them have a component of Cabernet Sauvignon, but the wine making process may be very important in this, as well as the local conditions of growing grapes,” Corder said.

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