The devastating effects of heavy alcohol drinking have been long time recognized. In the last decades, potential benefits of modest red wine drinking were suggested. In European countries in which red wide intake is not negligible (such as France), the association between cholesterol and cardiovascular (CV) risk was less evident, suggesting the action of some protective molecules in red wine or other foods and drinks. Epidemiological and mechanistic evidence of a J-shaped relationship between red wine intake and CV risk further supported the “French paradox”. Specific components of red wine both in vitro and in animal models were discovered. Polyphenols and especially resveratrol largely contribute to CV prevention mainly through antioxidant properties. They exert beneficial effects on endothelial dysfunction and hypertension, dyslipidemia, metabolic diseases, thus reducing the risk of adverse CV events such as myocardial infarction ischemic stroke and heart failure. Of interest, recent studies pointed out the role of ethanol itself as a potential cardioprotective agent, but a clear epidemiological evidence is still missing. The aim of this narrative review is to update current knowledge on the intracellular mechanism underlying the cardioprotective effects of polyphenols and ethanol. Furthermore, we summarized the results of epidemiological studies, emphasizing their methodological criticisms and the need for randomized clinical trials able to clarify the potential role of red wine consumption in reducing CV risk. Caution in avowing underestimation of the global burden of alcohol-related diseases was particularly used.
Keywords: alcohol, ethanol, flavonoids, polyphenols, red wine, resveratrol.
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