For years researchers have tried to determine why the French have such a lower rate of cardiovascular disease, given the amount of fat consumed in their diets.
Red wine has been identified as one of the suspects in maintaining a healthy heart, but now a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher has found that alcohol, in moderation, from any source not only maintains a healthy heart, but can reduce the damage to affected tissue following a heart attack.
When a heart attack occurs, blood flow is reduced to several areas of the body. When the blood flow is restored, several processes take place in the body that actually cause more harm to the damaged tissue. When the blood supply is reestablished, the blood carries white blood cells to the areas damaged by the reduction in blood delivery. Unfortunately, these blood cells act like miniature hand grenades as they stick to the walls of the arteries and release toxic chemicals into the damaged tissues, causing additional cell death.
“Following a heart attack, physicians try to establish reperfusion, or normalize the blood flow in the body,” said Ron Korthuis, distinguished professor and chair of medical pharmacology and physiology. “The damaged tissues begin releasing a variety of molecules that attract the white blood cells to the damaged areas. When the white blood cells arrive, they attach to the adhesion molecules on the blood vessel walls and then start destroying the damaged tissue. One type of adhesion molecule that is affected by the alcohol ingestion is P-selectin”
P-selectins make the artery walls sticky enough that the white blood cells will attach when they are in the affected areas. Using an animal model, Korthuis found that when alcohol was introduced to the system at a rate of one drink every 48 hours, the alcohol would trigger a chemical reaction in the body that would make the artery walls slick and stop the white blood cells from attaching to the damaged tissue. In subjects that were treated with the alcohol, the tissue affected by the low blood flow was much healthier and stronger than the untreated tissue. However, Korthuis warns that this is not a license to drink.
“Every time you take a drink of alcohol, you’re killing brain cells,” Korthuis said. “We’re trying to identify these chemical reactions so that we can develop a drug that would start this chain reaction, but not have the side effects of alcohol. We’ve also found other natural compounds have similar effects such as capsaicin, a compound in Tabasco sauce that creates that hot sensation.”
Korthuis’ research will be published this fall in Microcirculation. He also has been published in the American Journal of Physiology and Free Radicals Biology and Medicine on similar research studies.