Red Wine and Exercise: Using a Rat Model to Determine Cardiovascular Health Benefits

It is widely known that red wine is good for your heart.  It is also known that exercise is good for your heart as well (in addition to many other health benefits!).  Well, what happens when you drink red wine AND exercise?

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A group at the Instituto de Cardiologia in Rio Grande, Brazil sought to answer that question using a hypertensive rat model.  Since high blood pressure is known to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the hypertensive rat model was used in order to more easily study the system of interest.  Hypertension is caused by an increased peripheral vascular resistance, sympathetic overactivity, and increased heart frequency.  In other words, hypertension is caused by high blood pressure.

One way to relieve hypertension and high blood pressure symptoms and risk factors is to increase physical exercise.  Studies have proved that physical exercise benefits the cardiovascular system by improving cardiac output, and alleviating high blood pressure.  Physical exercise also improves the lipid profile (increase good cholesterol/HDL) and heart contraction function. 

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Studies have also found (as we’ve already discussed in a few of my posts on this blog) that moderate consumption of red wine improves risk factors associated with the development of coronary artery disease as well as other cardiovascular diseases.  One review, in particular, found that moderate red wine consumption (1-2 glasses per day) was shown to have a 32% reduction in the development of atherosclerotic disease in those consuming the beverage.  Is had also been shown that resveratrol, in addition to other polyphenols/phenolic compounds, positively benefit heart function and health, by specifically targeting the blood vessels.

In the brief study reviewed today, the authors aimed to determine the effect of physical exercise AND moderate red wine consumption on the systolic blood pressure, HDL (good cholesterol) levels, and physical performance in rats with preexisting high blood pressure conditions.  Since it is known that exercise is good for your heart and red wine is good for your heart, the authors of this study decided to combine the two, in hopes of discovering whether or not when combined they have more of a benefit or not, compared to exercise or wine drinking alone.

Methods

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Rats were split up into three different groups:  wine and exercise, wine alone, exercise alone, and control (neither wine nor exercise).  For those receiving the wine treatment, 3.715mL/kg/day was administered.  The wine used was Dal Pizzol Cabernet Sauvignon, containing 12% alcohol and was given to the rats in the early morning hours, five times per week.  Those in the exercise groups underwent the exercise treatment (the treadmill) early in the evening, five times per week.

In addition to regular exercise, a maximal exercise test was performed at the beginning, middle, and end of the study.  Systolic blood pressure, plasma levels, HDL levels, and EKG’s were measured for each rat in the study.

Results

Systolic Blood Pressure

  •       The wine and exercise group showed a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, and was the greatest reduction out of any of the groups (control, wine only, exercise only).
  •       There was no significant difference in systolic blood pressure reduction between the wine and exercise group, and the exercise only group.
  •       All three treatment groups showed significantly greater reductions in systolic blood pressure than the control group (no wine or exercise) alone.

Physical Performance

  •        For the maximal performance tests, the greatest distance travelled did not differ significantly from the wine and exercise group compared to the exercise alone group.

HDL (“good” cholesterol) Levels

  •        The HDL levels in the wine and exercise group was significantly higher than the control group and the exercise alone group.  The levels were also higher than the wine only group, however, this value was NOT significant.
  •       The HDL levels in the exercise only group did not differ significantly from the control (no wine or exercise) group.

EKG Results

  •       There were no significant differences in EKG levels for the different treatment groups.
  •       In the wine and exercise group, there was a significant increase in the left ventricular ejection fraction (how much blood is being pumped through the heart) between the first and second measurements (first before exercise, the second later).

What does this all mean?

The results of this study showed that for both the wine only group and the exercise only groups, there was a reduction in the cardiovascular disease risk factors.  The most important result, however, was with the wine and exercise group, and that by combining the two, there was an even more significant reduction in systolic blood pressure than the control or the two other treatment groups alone.  Past research has shown that with moderate alcohol consumption, age-dependent blood pressure is kept from increasing as it would with no alcohol consumption.  It is possible that moderate consumption of red wine shows a similar effect, which is evident from the results of this study.

Even if red wine did not contain alcohol, it is likely that similar decreases in blood pressure would be noted, since red wine is high in phenolic compounds that also have strong cardiovascular effects.  These phenols have antioxidant properties that play a role in converting “bad” LDL cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol.  By combining the effects of the alcohol and the phenolic compounds, as is in red wine, the cardiovascular benefits are very high.

One important factor to note with the results of this study is that physical performance between the wine and exercise group did not differ significantly from the exercise alone group.  This shows that moderate red wine consumption will not have negative effects on performance, though does not significantly increase performance either.  In regards to other cardiovascular benefits, it appears that wine plus exercise is more beneficial than wine alone or exercise alone, though all three are better than none at all.

What should we take away from all this?  Well, first of all, this study was in rats.  The next step would be to do a similar study in humans, but to my knowledge, that study has not been approved or administered at this point in time.  It’s possible that the results would be similar, but it’s not a leap I am ready to make without more evidence. 

The most important result of this study was that red wine consumption plus exercise is extremely beneficial in decreasing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but combining red wine with exercise will not make you a better athlete (unless, of course, you were using the wine bottles as dumbbells).

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I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below!

Full citation for the article discussed today:

Soares Filho, P.R., Castro, I., and Stahlschmidt, A. 2011. Effect of red wine associated with physical exercise in the cardiovascular system of spontaneously hypertensive rats. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia 96(4): 277-283.

I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!

6 comments for “Red Wine and Exercise: Using a Rat Model to Determine Cardiovascular Health Benefits

  1. July 27, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Anything taken in moderation is good and too much is bad.

    moderate red wine in take and a regular exercise will be beneficial to the person taking it. It would entirely depend on the person doing the exercise as well.

    But again one will know if its something is of good or bad to one's health. i would always wan to be in the safe side.Its better if this experiment is conducted to human rather than to a rat! would love to see the result as well.

  2. July 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you for reading and commenting! I completely agree with you about "everything in moderation" being good. Sometimes, when it comes to alcohol, there are voices that loudly discourage any consumption of it (especially when it comes to exercise), so it's great to see an article like this silencing that negativity, even if for a little bit.

    I'd love to see the human study as well! A survey-style study would be a great start, and relatively easy to do. Once the results of a study like that are published, I'll be sure to jump on it and report back!

  3. November 9, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Interesting results. But, how about factoring in the potential liver damage. Perhaps a better combination would be exercise (by all means) accompanied by a half glass of red per day and combined with a plant based diet.

  4. November 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Good point, Bill. It would be important to monitor any potential negative results, since as we all know, too much alcohol is a bad thing. This topic continues to be one of those that I am monitoring for new studies, so hopefully science will have an answer for us sooner than later!

  5. justcurious
    February 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    I have been searching about this matter online. I´m almost close to it. But in this situation, wine was taken before the exercise. My question is, how about if one would drink a glass of wine hours after exercise (before bedtime f.ex.)?

    • Becca
      February 8, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      That’s a great question!…and one I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to! I don’t think anyone has studied that as of yet, so it’s something you’d just have to experiment with!

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