When the choice is red wine or gin, choose red wine – at least when considering your heart’s health.
That’s according to a recent study by Jefferson Medical College researchers, who compared the effects of drinking either red wine or gin on several biochemical markers in the blood. Red wine contains many complex compounds including polyphenols, which are absent from gin. They found that drinking red wine had a much greater effect in lowering levels in the bloodstream of so-called “anti-inflammatory” substances that are risk factors in the development of heart disease and stroke.
The results, which appeared recently in the journal Atherosclerosis, didn’t surprise co-author Emanuel Rubin, M.D., who led the study.
“It’s clear from these results that while drinking some form of alcohol lowers inflammatory markers, red wine has a much greater effect than gin,” says Dr. Rubin, Distinguished Professor of Pathology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
While there are well known associations between alcohol and a lowered risk of heart attack and stroke – the so-called “French paradox,” for example – Dr. Rubin says that “breaking down the data epidemiologically” has been difficult.
To find evidence related to alcohol’s effect in reducing heart attack and stroke, he and his colleagues at the University of Barcelona turned to “surrogate” or substitute markers of disease. Inflammation, he notes, has long been implicated in the development of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. “High levels of c-reactive proteins and other markers of inflammation in the blood are risk factors that have been implicated in coronary artery disease and ischemic stroke,” he says.
The Jefferson-led team compared the effects of red wine and gin on the levels of inflammatory biomarkers in the blood, including adhesion molecules, chemokines and white blood cells that are related to atherosclerosis. According to Dr. Rubin, no clinical trials have been done comparing the effect of red wine to that of alcoholic beverages with low levels of non-alcoholic substances, such as polyphenols.
In the first part of the study, the researcher gave 20 subjects in two groups two drinks a day of either wine or gin for 28 days. That was followed by a “washout period” of 15 days with no alcohol. In the second part of the trial, those who received red wine the first time then were given gin. Those who had gin first then received red wine. The researchers measured levels of biomarkers before and after each half of the trial. They attempted to rigorously control subjects’ diets.
Both wine and gin showed anti-inflammatory effects. Both groups had reduced levels of fibrinogen which clots blood but is not an inflammatory marker, and IL-1, which is. Raised levels of fibrinogen are a risk factor for heart attack.
But red wine also dramatically lowered the levels of inflammatory molecules such as adhesion molecules, and proteins in monocytes and lymphocytes.
Dr. Rubin argues that one or two glasses of red wine a day may be beneficial, and that there is some degree of protection from heart disease and stroke by alcoholic beverages in general. Still, the results are only indirect evidence and can’t prove a protective effect against the development of atherosclerosis. The study is far too brief to analyze a process that takes years to develop, he says.
“It’s tough to root out just what is going on,” he says. “There will have to be long-term epidemiological studies done.”