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Omega-3 fatty acids from fish—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—are known to reduce cardiac risk. The fact that eating fish and drinking alcohol have similar cardiovascular effects has led researchers to wonder if these substances might be working together.
About half of the men in the study were instructed to eat a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), some of which the body is able to convert to EPA and DHA. The other half were instructed to eat a Western-style diet, which is typically low in ALA. Men in both groups ate about the same amount of fish. Both groups kept track of the amount of alcohol they drank, which was almost exclusively wine.
After 27 months, EPA and DHA levels were higher in the men on the Mediterranean-style diet, and alcohol drinkers from both groups had higher EPA and DHA levels than nondrinkers. Men who ate the Mediterranean-style diet and drank alcohol regularly had the highest levels. The findings suggest that alcohol, and particularly wine, might enhance the conversion of ALA to heart-healthy EPA and DHA.
According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Michel de Lorgeril, the Mediterranean diet has many important characteristics, one of which is that it is rich in ALA. He cited several sources of this heart-healthy fatty acid:
Other characteristics of a Mediterranean-style diet, Dr. de Lorgeril said, include eating a diet that is:
Higher levels of EPA and DHA fatty acids lead to lower blood pressure, lower total cholesterol and triglycerides, higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol, normal heart rhythms, and reduced risk of sudden cardiac death.
For people who don’t have easy access to fatty fish or who cannot eat it for any reason, drinking wine moderately may offer comparable benefits, according to the study’s authors. Whether or not fish is on the dinner menu tonight, adding a glass of wine may be one way to do your heart good.(Am Heart J 2008;155:175–81)