Heart Healthy Red Wine: Nature’s Source for Resveratrol and Flavanoids


Resveratrol has been in the news quite a bit lately. In short, resveratrol is one of the many beneficial compounds found in red wine. Some researchers believe that resveratrol works by mimicking the effects that one would get from practicing a caloric restriction diet.

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Calorie restriction is well-established as a method of extending lifespan and reducing diseases associated with aging (at least in laboratory animals.) And resveratrol may work by triggering the same genes that are triggered by a very low calorie diet … without the hunger. Finally, resveratrol may be (part) of the explanation for the oft-noted beneficial effects of red wine.3

Recent Studies Indicate that the Flavonoids in Red Wine Have Many Beneficial Effects on the Cardiovascular System

The French smoke, drink and eat lots of cheese. Yet, despite a diet that’s relatively high in fat, they boast a 42% lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than Americans do. Why? Because in addition to eating a diet that includes whole, high-fiber grains, they drink red wine. Red wine is chock full of antioxidant compounds, which in turn lowers the risk of blood clots and heart attack.1

Three recent studies have shown that red wine has even more benefits than previously realized.

1) Red Wine Promotes Nitric Oxide Production

One study showed that among the many proven benefits of red wine is the inhibition of platelet aggregation and promotion of nitric oxide production, both important factors for promoting proper blood flow throughout the body. Additionally, red wine has been shown to significantly prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. This effect was even evident in heart patients taking large doses of supplemental vitamin E, showing the unique antioxidant properties of red wine components.

The authors concluded that, “Based on the existing evidence of antiplatelet and antioxidant benefits and improved endothelial function from red wine and purple grape juice, it seems reasonable to suggest that moderate amounts of red wine or purple grape juice be included among the 5-7 daily servings of fruits and vegetables per day as recommended by the American Heart Association to help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.” Because red wine seems to have multiple beneficial effects on cardiovascular health and function it seems prudent to include it in our diet.2

2) Red Wine Consumption Lowers Homocysteine Levels

The newest independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease is excess levels of homocysteine&151;not cholesterol. Contrary to popular belief, elevated cholesterol alone does not cause heart disease. It is merely one of the many markers of the disease. In fact, it’s quite possible to have a heart attack even if you have “normal” cholesterol levels.

But, according to research, there’s a definite possibility you’ll have a heart attack if you have high levels of homocysteine. What is it? Homocysteine is an amino acid derivative that’s naturally found in your body. Too much of it can generate free radicals that increase injury to arterial walls, accelerate oxidation and the buildup of cholesterol in blood vessels, and set the stage for arterial and venous diseases, including stroke.3

The good news is that scientists have discovered that red wine can dramatically lower homocysteine levels, even in obese individuals. These researchers concluded that, “Mild to moderate alcohol consumption, especially red wine consumption, in obese subjects is associated with lower fasting homocysteine concentrations. This may reduce cardiovascular risk and help explain the ‘French paradox'” With this new research we can add lowering homocysteine levels to the myriad of positive effects red wine’s components have on cardiovascular health.4

3) Red Wine Polyphenols Prevent the Oxidation of Dietary Fats in the Digestive Tract

While most people are aware that oxidized fats are an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, most aren’t aware that much of the oxidative stress occurs from the normal oxidation of dietary fats within the digestive tract. The subsequent absorption of these oxidation products greatly increases oxidative damage in the body and modifies LDL cholesterol to damaging forms.

Recent research has shown that wine polyphenols are very effective at preventing the rise of oxidized fat products after meals. Because much of our body’s oxidative stress is a result of the absorption of these damaging fats after meals, red wine’s unique ability to prevent fat oxidation during digestion is a novel means to lower the damaging effects of these oxidized fats on our cardiovascular system. As the author’s concluded, “Apparently, wine procyanidins are active in preventing lipid oxidation of foods while in the digestive tract, thus preventing the postprandial plasma rise in oxidants. The likely limited bioavailability of these compounds, therefore, does not affect their relevance as key elements for optimizing nutrition and reducing risk of atherogenesis.” 5

Dietary Supplementation is a Popular and Inexpensive Way to Lower One’s Risk of Heart Disease.

Don’t worry, we’re not asking you to drink two glasses of red wine every day over a leisurely 4-hour lunch, as the French do (although it doesn’t sound like punishment!). Even if you don’t drink red wine, you can gain the same benefits by drinking red grape juice or taking a nutritional supplement that contains red wine polyphenols. Because red grape juice also is very high in sugar and calories, red wine extract is the low-calorie choice to obtain the amazing and broad-spectrum benefits of the magical red grape.

What role does nitric oxide play in promoting proper blood flow throughout the body?

Plenty! Inside your body nitric oxide is produced by endothelial cells that line your blood vessels, and acts as a messenger molecule by telling the blood vessels when to relax and expand. When adequate nitric oxide is produced, it causes an “endothelial relaxing factor,” which is needed by the arterial system to expand and contract with each heartbeat. This helps regulate blood flow and pressure, so that oxygen-carrying blood is delivered to your tissues and organs.910 Nitric oxide causes all of the capillaries and little blood vessels to relax and go to their biggest open position. This allows unrestricted blood flow. But if nitric oxide production is impaired, the result is endothelial dysfunction, or the inability of the arterial system to expand and contract. This is a major cause of hypertension and has also been linked to high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, diabetes, blood clots, infection, and heart failure.11

Endothelial cells both produce and respond to nitric oxide in a self-regulating way, something like this. Say you have a garden hose with a sprayer attached to it. When you squeeze the handle, pressure is released within the hose as the water flows. As you release the sprayer, pressure builds and the hose swells.

Nitric oxide acts in a similar way. Think of it as the handle on the garden hose, or as a messenger regulating the pressure and flow of the blood inside the capillaries and blood vessels. When nitric oxide is produced inside the endothelium, it rapidly spreads through the cell membranes to the underlying muscle cells. Their contraction is turned off by nitric oxide, resulting in a dilation of the arteries. This is how nitric oxide controls the blood pressure and blood flow.

Nitric oxide also helps prevent blood clots because it prevents blood aggregation or platelets from being excessively sticky and ultimately resulting in the formation of blood clots.


  1. Energy Times, “The French Paradox,” pg. 80. September 1999
  2. Folts JD. “Potential health benefits from the flavonoids in grape products on vascular disease.” Adv Exp Med Biol 2002;505:95-111.
  3. Olszewski, A. J.; et al. “Reduction of Plasma Lipid and Homocysteine levels by Pyridoxine, Folate, Cobalamin, Choline, Riboflavin, and Troxerutin in Atherosclerosis.” Atherosclerosis 75 no. 1 (Jan, 1989): 1-6.
  4. Dixon JB, Dixon ME, O’Brien PE. “Reduced plasma homocysteine in obese red wine consumers: a potential contributor to reduced cardiovascular risk status.” Eur J Clin Nutr 2002 Jul;56(7):608-614.
  5. Ursini F, Sevanian A. “Wine Polyphenols and Optimal Nutrition.”Ann N Y Acad Sci 2002 May;957:200-209.
  6. Huang, P.L. and E.H. Lo (1998) Prog. Brain. Res. 118:13
  7. Moncada, S. (1999) J. Roy. Soc. Med. 92:164.
  8. Harrison, D.G. (1997) J. Clin. Invest. 100:2153.
  9. Folkers, K., er al.,Journal of Optimal Nutrition, 1993; 2(4): 264-74.
  10. Molecular Aspects of Medicine, 1994, vol. 15.
  11. Folkers, Karl, Ph.D. and Langsjoen, Per H., M.D, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. June 1985;82:4240-4.

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