A little wine may boost heart-healthy omega-3

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A glass or two of wine per day may increase the amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in a person’s blood, a new study suggests.

Glasses and bottles of red wine are seen in a tasting room in Saint Emilion, southwestern France, November 6, 2007. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

The study of European adults found that those who drank in moderation tended to have higher blood levels of omega-3 -- even when intake of fish, the major dietary source of the fats, was taken into account.

The link was strongest among wine drinkers, compared with those who favored beer and spirits. The findings suggest that wine, in particular, may affect the body’s metabolism of omega-3 fats, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Romina di Giuseppe of Catholic University in Campobasso, Italy.

The results also point to an additional explanation for why wine drinking, in moderation, has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, the researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, are thought to protect the heart by lowering triglycerides (a type of blood fat), reducing inflammation and preventing heart-rhythm disturbances, among other benefits.

For its part, wine may boost blood levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, reduce the chances of blood clots and improve the function of the blood vessel lining.

Some lab research has suggested that moderate amounts of wine, or other types of alcohol, may also change the body’s metabolism of omega-3 fatty acids.

“That is exactly what we found in our population study,” di Guiseppe said in a written statement. “People drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, one drink a day for women and two for men, had higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and red blood cells independently of their fish intake.”

The study included 1,604 adults between the ages of 26 and 65 from Italy, Belgium and England. Because people in the three nations have substantially different drinking and eating habits, the researchers were able to zero in on the effects of different types of alcohol on omega-3 levels.

They found that moderate wine consumption was particularly linked to higher omega-3 levels.

This, di Guiseppe’s team notes, suggests that wine components other than alcohol bestow the benefit; antioxidant compounds called polyphenols may play a role, the researchers say.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2009, online December 4, 2008.