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The Red Wine Debate

Can a glass of red wine a day help prevent stroke? You bet.

Brian Kolonick Mar 14, 2007

Can a glass of red wine per day keep a stroke away? Some scientists say it can.

The idea that drinking red wine may improve your health started with the French, who tend to consume a relatively high fat diet but have less strokes and heart disease. Since the early 1800s, it has been suggested that the French's high consumption of red wine may contribute to the lower disease risks. Of course, the French also tend to lead more active lifestyles and eat smaller portions than Americans, which could also contribute to their longevity.

Without any definitive conclusions, scientists decided to look for answers by doing research. In their studies, they found that the skin and seeds of red wine grapes contain something called resveratrol and that this key ingredient increased levels of certain enzymes in the brain that protect nerve cells from damage. Also, they found that the process of turning red grapes into wine actually increases the levels or concentration of resveratrol, helping stroke survivors even more. In a recent John Hopkins University study, resveratrol protected the brain from stroke damage in mice.

On the other hand, white wine has less resveratrol because it is fermented differently and without the skin. Yet white wine consumption in moderation has also been linked to reduced disease risks, suggesting that the alcohol itself may be the factor.

In fact, many experts believe that light-to-moderate consumption of any form of alcohol — not just red wine — can reduce risk for stroke. One to two alcoholic drinks per day may increase the amount of HDL, or good cholesterol, in the bloodstream. Alcohol also may serve as a blood thinner, helping break up blood clots. That said, too much alcohol has been shown to increase your risk of having a stroke.

“If you do consume alcohol in any form, it is critical to drink only in moderation — one to two drinks a day,” said Dr. Daniel T. Lackland from the Medical University of South Carolina. “More than two drinks, and you are doing more harm than good.”

Drinking more than two drinks a day has shown to significantly increase the risk of stroke. In a recent study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, participants who drank three or more drinks a day had about a 42 percent higher risk of stroke than nondrinkers. High alcohol consumption increases blood pressure, the leading cause of stroke.

If you are not a drinker, there is no real evidence that you should start drinking to prevent stroke.

“People are nondrinkers for many reasons, including religious reasons, health reasons, and their own personal reasons,” said Lackland. “To encourage a nondrinker to start drinking to prevent stroke is not a consideration. However, people who would consume alcohol to reduce their stroke risk should limit their consumption to one or two drinks per day. And as with all health-related behavior changes, they should consult with their doctors.”

Overall, there is a lack of medical evidence to determine how much of an impact moderate alcohol consumption has on preventing stroke. A glass of red? A glass of white? A beer or favorite liquor? The most important thing is strict moderation.

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