Martinis for a Healthy Heart?
Q. I keep hearing that moderate consumption of wine can help reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke. However, I prefer martinis. Do gin and vermouth offer any protection?
You're in luck. Believe it or not, Canadian researchers recently found proof that martinis can be good for you -- especially if they're shaken, not stirred. The study results, published in the December 1999 issue of the "British Medical Journal," showed that martinis have antioxidant properties that may help protect against heart disease, cataracts, and stroke.
The researchers, from the University of Western Ontario, looked into the healthful features of the martini and found that the vermouth (a fortified wine) contributes most to the antioxidant properties of the drink -- but the combination of vermouth and gin packs extra antioxidant punch. Other studies have found that any alcohol can raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels and help prevent heart attacks by inhibiting platelet cells in the blood from clumping together. The tannins in red wine are also supposed to do this.
However, if I were you, I wouldn't bet my health on martinis or red wine -- alcohol is toxic to the liver and the nervous system. And while red wine may contribute to the "French Paradox" (the French have a low death rate from heart disease, despite their high-fat, high-cholesterol diet) the real credit goes to proanthocyandins, the pigments in red grape juice that have powerful antioxidant activity. You don't have to drink red wine to reap the benefits of proanthocyandins -- you can drink red grape juice, or eat red grapes, as well as plums and blueberries, which also contain these pigments.
If you do drink alcohol, my recommendation is to drink it occasionally and in moderation. The best way to protect yourself against heart disease is to follow a low-fat diet, exercise regularly, and if you smoke, give up cigarettes. However, if you're going to depend on alcohol for protection against heart disease, you're much better off with red wine than martinis -- there's simply more research on the benefits of red wine. An occasional martini won't hurt you, just don't overdo it. Cheers!