Haemodynamically yours

Planning to woo your beloved with a romantic tête-à-tête this evening? Looking forward to the incomparable moment when your eyes meet in the flickering candlelight over that bottle of expensive red wine you ordered to get you both in the mood for love?

At this point if you can tear your eyes away from the object of your affections, scan the room for Canadian cardiologists. They are about to pour cold water on your little soirée. While one measure* of the wine you so carefully chose may have the desired effect, if your lover reaches to pour you a second one, you may as well put that Céline Dion CD on pause and get your coat.

It all revolves around that second glass. Researchers at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center, based at Toronto General Hospital have just published the results of their latest study on the effects of alcohol on heart rate, blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity. Snappily entitled ‘Dose-related effects of red wine and alcohol on hemodynamics, sympathetic nerve activity and arterial diameter‘, John Floras and his colleagues at the University of Toronto share the results of their real-time study of the effects of alcohol and polyphenols (or pinot noir as it’s more commonly known), on biomarkers associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart failure.

Healthy volunteers drank either a glass* of red wine, a shot* of ethanol, or water on three occasions, separated by two-week intervals. The responses were different, but not entirely what the group expected. Epidemiology has led research nutritionists to take a keen interest in the beneficial effects of red wine. They, in turn have linked such benefits to the polyphenols that wine contains. However, red wine also contains another substance popular for its effects on the human nervous system.

What the Toronto group found is that the effects of red wine and ethanol on heart rate, the amount of blood pumped out of the heart and on blood vessel dilation, were similar between the two drinks – after the first drink. The second drink, however, increased heart rate and increased the rate of firing of the sympathetic nervous system (the one responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ reaction), indicators of cardiovascular stress. This second dose also inhibited the blood vessels’ ability to expand to cope with the extra blood flow, putting further pressure on the cardiovascular system.

*The measures of alcohol in question are a 4 oz (120ml) glass of wine or a 1.5 oz (44ml) shot of spirits. The authors of the study also stress that they support the American Heart Association’s position that red wine consumption should not be recommended as a means to prevent heart disease. But we’ll discuss the thorny issues of responsibility and nutritional recommendations another time.

So, as your heart skips a beat with anticipation this evening, just hope it’s true love and not just the wine!

Happy Valentines Day!
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