By Mary Brophy Marcus
THURSDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- While some say it's not as flavorful as the real thing, drinking nonalcoholic red wine might help lower blood pressure in men at high risk for heart disease.
Middle-aged and older men who drank moderate amounts of de-alcoholized red wine daily for four weeks had drops in systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure, according to a small new study by Spanish researchers.
"In the context of a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle, daily consumption of de-alcoholized red wine can help prevent hypertension," said study author Gemma Chiva-Blanch, at the department of internal medicine at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona.
The study was published online Sept. 6 in the journal Circulation Research.
The nonalcoholic wine drinkers also showed increased levels of nitric oxide -- a molecule in the blood that previous studies have linked with improving blood-vessel health and lowering blood pressure.
While some studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, others suggest red wine in particular is beneficial, possibly because it's rich in polyphenols, which are antioxidants linked with lowering blood pressure.
Though it is well-documented that binge and heavy drinking are bad for blood pressure, the effect of moderate alcohol consumption has been unclear, the authors said.
The study "compares the effects of red wine and a nonalcoholic red wine with identical composition -- except for the alcohol content -- in the same subjects," Chiva-Blanch said. The scientists also analyzed gin's effect.
Participants were 67 men aged 55 or older who either had type 2 diabetes or more than three risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight or obese, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.
After an initial two-week abstinence period, they were separated into three groups assigned to a different beverage: three ounces of gin, 10 ounces of red wine or 10 ounces of nonalcoholic red wine. After four weeks of daily consumption, the men rotated to a new beverage, and so forth with the third beverage.
After each rotation, researchers measured blood pressure, heart rate, and nitric oxide levels in the blood, and then a statistical analysis was performed.
They found a reduction in blood pressure after the men drank red wine but it was not statistically significant, and gin consumption did not reduce blood pressure. However, after the men drank the alcohol-free red wine, blood pressure levels dropped significantly. Systolic blood pressure levels decreased by about 6 mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure levels dropped by 2 mmHg.
In theory, the authors said those changes could reduce the risk of heart disease by 14 percent and cut the chance of a stroke almost 20 percent.
Mayo Clinic cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes said the new research is "a hypothesis-generating study" that needs more investigation.
"Gin, Mai Tais, wine, beer -- a lot of studies would suggest that when it all comes down to it, it's the alcohol. But then there was a rise of interest in polyphenols -- resveratrol in red wine and grapes. But most of those studies showed that giving polyphenols by themselves showed no benefit or change. So the thinking has circled back to maybe it's just the alcohol," Hayes said.
She noted that the study was small, with no control group. She said it's known that blood pressure goes up when alcohol is withdrawn, even if the person is not a heavy drinker, and she speculated that the two-week "wash-out" period before the study could have influenced the results.
"So I have problems with the methods in this study. It's intriguing; it's suggestive, but not definitive. It needs to be explored. The methods may not be enough to allow us to extrapolate this to say that alcohol or de-alcoholized wine is better for you," Hayes said, adding that lowering blood pressure for a few weeks also doesn't indicate that cardiovascular risk will decrease long-term. "But to be fair, the authors say this, too," she added.