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One for the road: Alcohol and coronary plaque
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As you enjoy your glass of Bordeaux, are you adding or subtracting from the mix of factors that contribute to coronary plaque? Are alcoholic beverages a blessing or a curse for your heart disease prevention program?

Here, the Track Your Plaque no-nonsense Special Report on alcohol and its influence on coronary plaque.

Mention of alcoholic beverages has, for centuries, stirred up extremes of emotions. Wine, for instance, is an icon of Catholic church ritual, used to represent the blood of Christ. At the other extreme, alcohol has been vilified for its effects on human behavior, even outlawed in the 1920s during Prohibition. We’ve all encountered some of the 15 million alcoholics in the U. S. whose health is certainly not improved by alcohol. Perhaps that’s behind much of skepticism over the purported health benefits of alcohol.

Support for wine as a healthy form of alcohol, in particular, experienced a surge in interest with the recognition of the substantial difference in heart attack rates in France compared to the United Kingdom. Residents of Toulouse, France, for instance, who include plentiful vegetables, fruits, and an average of 380 ml (approx. 12 oz.) of red wine per day, experienced 20% of the heart attacks of residents of Belfast and Glasgow despite similar cholesterol blood levels and saturated fat intake (Renaud S et al 1992). This conundrum, dubbed the “French Paradox”, was attributed to the French love of red wine (de Lorgeril M et al 2002).

In 1995, the Lyon Diet Heart Study reported an astounding 70% reduction in heart attacks in persons with heart disease following the Mediterranean diet (Renaud S et al 1995). The Mediterranean diet contains plentiful vegetables, fruits, olive oil, as well as red wine. (A protective effect was noted in participants with higher blood levels of omega-3 fats, also.)

Also in 1995, the Copenhagen City Heart Study reported a 10 year observation in over 11,000 people that drinkers of 3–5 glasses of wine per day had half the mortality rate of non-drinkers. Hard liquor drinkers had an increased mortality rate (Gronbaek M et al 1995).

How much of this can we believe? Has the truth been muddied by gushing media reports or influenced by liquor and wine producers? Are there practical lessons that we can take for purposes of coronary plaque reversal interests?

What we know to be true . . .

Despite the uncertainties, there are several things we can regard as fact. These are phenomena that have been established beyond doubt and occur predictably and reproducibly when we use alcoholic beverages. (A single serving is defined as 4 oz. of wine, 12 oz. of beer, or 2 oz. of “hard” liquor.)

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