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In recent years, scientists have concluded without doubt that many human diseases such as heart disease, cancer and ill-effects of the aging process can be caused or stimulated by a ravenous group of chemicals called free radicals. They act to create oxidative inflammatory damage in tissues such as blood vessels(Clogged arteries) and in joints called Rheumatics or Arthritis and in localized cells called benign growths or Systemic fully-blown cancers .

In this scenario, there is however a knight-in-shining-armour that jumps to the rescue and purges these ever hungry little killers. The name of our crusader is Antioxidants.

Without getting too technical, the oxidation process in our bodies is crucial for health, without it, for instance, we would not be able to extract energy from our food. However if there are too many free radicals in our bodies, this can be very harmful.

Our body has its own defenses against free radicals, in the form of enzymes that are able to turn the hungry little tissue-devouring sharks into harmless water but sometimes our body’s natural defense mechanisms can’t cope.

Other times, external events can cause huge increases of free radicals within our bodies, such as x-rays, cigarette smoke and exposure to other toxic substances. And so a surge of free radicals can swamp our defenses and illnesses may take place.

So what does oxidation and free radicals have to do with heart disease?

Low density lipoprotein, commonly know as “bad” LDL, can penetrate and gather against the inner walls of our arteries which under certain conditions, form fatty streaks and plaque.

Taken alone, LDL particles aren’t so dangerous it seems, however, when attacked by free radicals they turn into dangerous and somewhat aggressive cells, capable of actually penetrating and harming the smooth inner walls of our arteries through localized inflammation thereof, So Oxidized LDL is known to be the culprit in stimulating atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke.

Antioxidants, as the name suggests, help stop the oxidation process, which are the results of free radicals doing their stuff and Most antioxidant research has been carried out on vitamins (A, E, beta carotene) but quite a lot of work has also been done on the healthy benefits of red wine.

While most research on red wine has been done in relation to coronary heart disease, it seems that the benefits of wine don’t stop there.

For instance, Red wine contains a wide range of flavanoids; these are the chemicals that give the wine its particular taste, color and character, making one different from another. Many of these flavanoids act like antioxidants.

Perhaps the forerunner of wine research was carried out by a one Serge Renaud, who discovered the French Paradox, which suggested that wine was the decisive factor in protecting the people in southern France from their very high fat diets and ultimately coronary heart disease.

Even if these people do eat large quantities of high fat cheese, pasta, and salami they have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.

Another study, statistical rather than practical, by a Professor Grey of the Swiss University of Bern focussed on the low, medium and high coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality figures of the World Health Organization.

He found from among the high mortality areas were Finland and Scotland, the middle areas included Ireland, and the low CHD areas included Spain, Italy and France. He then compared heart attack rates with antioxidant levels in blood samples taken from men living in those areas.

His results showed that high antioxidant levels, in particular vitamin E, coincided with low death rates of heart disease. Moreover that low vitamin E levels were 94% more accurate in predicting CHD rates than were cholesterol levels or blood pressure figures!

Apart from diet, the high CHD regions drink very little, if any wine, whereas the low regions traditionally accompany their meals most days with wine. But it certainly seems strange that two much studied cities; Glasgow in Scotland and Toulouse in France show many similarities and yet many differences. People of both cities eat tremendous amounts of high fat foods, traditionally take little exercise and drink alcohol.

The surprising difference is that while the people of Glasgow have one of the highest rates of CHD in the world, the fortunate people of Toulouse have one of the lowest.

Traditionally beer and spirits are the preferred drinks in Glasgow, while the folks in Toulouse drink red wine. (Of course the fact that the weather patterns in both areas are poles apart had nothing to do with mortality rates either… Ahemmm.)

So, it has been suggested that drinking in moderation together with meals is beneficial, while binge drinking at bars in the evening is harmful… duhh! It seems the southern Europeans don’t drink for the alcohol buzz, but just as a pleasant accompaniment to their meals.

At first the large heart institutions such as the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association ignored both antioxidants and frowned upon wine. While it is clear that it could be potentially dangerous for a physician to recommend his patients start drinking alcohol, it is also strange that they pretended for so many years to ignore the evidence.

Roll on a few years now and even if they don’t promote the taking of vitamin pills; antioxidants and free radicals they are now more recognized as factors in disease. Though, according to the AHA “There is no scientific proof that drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage can replace conventional measures.

No direct comparison trials have been done to determine the specific effect of wine or other alcohol on the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.

The costs of clinical trials is so high that only the pharmaceutical industry have the financial clout to invest in them — invest being the correct word.

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