Alcohol is known to have health benefits in humans. Consuming alcoholic beverages may provide some health benefits because of the phytochemicals within the drinks. These phytochemicals are derived from the fruits used to make the drinks. For example, cider contains apple polyphenols that are bioactive and have been shown to have beneficial health effects. Red wine is a highly complex mixture of plant derived phytochemicals including polyphenols that may have particular health benefits. However, administration of the ethanol component of alcoholic drinks in the absence of any plant phytochemicals still confers protective health effects, suggesting that ethanol itself is beneficial. One of the most widely reported health benefits of ethanol is to the cardiovascular system. Drinking alcohol for example reduces the risk of a heart attack significantly in the proceeding 24 hours. The cardioprotective effects of ethanol have studied by and may relate to the effect ethanol has an essential fatty acid metabolism.
For example, in one study1, the effects of ethanol on the production of prostaglandin E1 and thromboxane B1 was investigated in human platelets. Ethanol in the 33 to 300 mg per 100 mL plasma caused a significant dose response increase in the conversion of dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid to both prostaglandin E1 and thromboxane B1. However ethanol at the same concentrations had no effects on the conversion of arachidonic acid to prostaglandin E2 and thromboxane B2. Prostaglandin E1 and thromboxane B1 have anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic effects respectively, while prostaglandin E2 and thromboxane B2 have pro-inflammatory and prothrombotic effects, respectively. This may explain some of the cardioprotective effects of ethanol. The authors suggested that the effects of ethanol could be due to improved transport of the dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid to the active site of the cyclooxygenase enzyme required to catalyse the synthesis of prostaglandins and thromboxanes.
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