Wine only protects your heart if you exercise, says study

Most of us have heard/celebrated the news that wine is good for heart health. But it turns out that it only works if you exercise too.

Scientists started publishing research showing a link between drinking a glass or two of wine and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease in the early 90s. Several studies have suggested that wine increases levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (that’s the good type, which strengthens blood vessels, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke).

Professor Milos Taborsky from the Czech Republic presented his team’s study ‘In Vino Veritas’ at the European Society of Cardiology conference in Barcelona. It’s the first research project to look how both red and white wine affect HDL cholesterol over time. He took 146 people who were at mild or moderate risk of heart disease and prescribed them a year’s consumption of either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay-Pinot from the same Czech region.

The participants couldn’t get sloshed: they were asked to stick to the World Health Organisation’s recommended limit of 200ml or 300ml a day (for women and men, respectively – that’s around one medium or large glass) no more than five times a week. They weren’t asked to change anything else, but did keep a record of their exercise habits and any medication they were taking. And they had to turn in their corks as proof that they hadn’t sold the wine on. (So untrusting!)

At the end of the study, the researchers measured participants’ HDL levels, as well as factors that increase the risk of heart disease, most notably ‘bad’ or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. The result? As a whole, neither group showed any difference in HDL levels, although LDL was lower.

However, a subgroup of participants who exercised twice a week or more did see an increase in HDL cholesterol, so Professor Taborsky suggests that the combination of wine and exercise might work together to provide benefits for the heart. Far be it for me to argue with science, but couldn’t it easily be the case that it’s just the exercise that’s having some benefit, and not the wine at all? Although I’m not a doctor, so you should probably keep up that tipple after the gym, just in case.

 F Delventhal’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley