How Does Alcohol Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

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We have identified many of the biologic and physiologic effects of wine and alcohol that relate to protection against CAD. Alcohol affects blood lipids; it increases HDL-cholesterol, the "good cholesterol" that lowers the risk of heart disease. Alcohol also tends to slightly decrease LDL-cholesterol, the "bad cholesterol" that increases atherosclerosis. Thus, individuals who have consumed moderate amounts of alcohol for most of their adult years tend to have less atherosclerosis.

Alcohol also positively affects blood coagulation inside the arteries, which contributes to the second factor in heart

Atherosclerosis: The Great Riddle

The progress in heart surgery and treatment of general heart disease has been remarkable over the last fifty years. Many conditions that doctors in the 1950s considered fatal are now routinely treatable with a variety of options including drugs (for hypertension, for example), surgery, and less invasive techniques. At the same time these surgical techniques have become accepted, our knowledge of cardiac disease prevention has made incredible leaps forward.

What does the future hold for cardiac therapy? Dr. Michael DeBakey, one of the world's most prominent cardiovascular surgeons, says that atherosclerosis will be the next major medical hurdle. Although the risk factors that contribute to blocked arteries are well known, in about a third of the cases of atherosclerosis, the patients are nonsmokers who eat well and exercise regularly.

"There may even be a viral cause," DeBakey said in a recent interview. "It's the most frustrating problem I've had to deal with, finding the cause of atherosclerosis. Until we know the specific cause of atherosclerosis, we're not going to be able to prevent it. Therefore, until we can do that, we're going to have to deal with the disease. We are educating the public in these risk factors, and there's no doubt they are responding, but the fact remains that the disease is just as prevalent, although we have reduced the mortality of the disease. We will continue to use the methods we have of treating blocked arteries and aneurysms, which are all caused by atherosclerosis."

Ischemia:

A lack of oxygenated blood flow to a tissue or organ.

Thrombus:

Refers to a blood clot, usually in an artery or the heart.

New studies are beginning to show that moderate to light alcohol consumption (one drink a day, six days a week) may have a protective effect on the heart. This explains why some wine-consuming European countries experience relatively lower rates of coronary artery disease despite high-fat diets.

attacks: the formation of blood clots. We now know that alcohol, and especially red wine, decreases the stickiness of the platelets, which form clumps that lead to blood clots.

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