Alcohol Can Reduce Plaque Build Up in Coronary Arteries
A study published in the November issue of the journal Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center division of surgery reveals that moderate alcohol consumption can help to reduce the build up of plaque in arteries. In turn, this might reduce the incidence of coronary artery disease leading to angina and heart attacks.
Molecules called “Notch” proteins help to control the very small involuntary smooth muscles that regulate arterial blood flow. High levels of cholesterol and smoking can stimulate these proteins, inciting the muscle cells to multiply which in turn can lead to the development of arterial plaques. When these cells are exposed to alcohol, the signaling from Notch proteins is blocked thus blocking the cellular proliferation and the growth of plaque. Researchers advise that one to two small servings of alcohol per day may offer the best protection. Beyond that, large amounts of alcohol can be harmful to cardiac health and lead to stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Researchers have tested this theory both in vitro and in mice. When cells from human coronary arteries were grown in dishes and exposed to alcohol, it was noted that cell growth stopped, presumably due to the signal blocking of Notch proteins. Testing then proceeded in mice, with one group receiving the equivalent of two drinks of alcohol per day and the other group none. In the alcohol group, there was less Notch signaling and thinner blood vessels than the group without alcohol.
These results may support an American Heart Association study that found that male heart bypass patients who consumed light to moderate alcohol were less likely to require another cardiac procedure or suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who abstained. It should be noted that numerous studies have raised the question of what is considered to be a heart healthy, safe dose of alcohol. In general, the answer to that question seems to be light to moderate or one to two servings per day or per occasion. According to the Mayo Clinic, that translates into 12 ounces of beer, a 5 ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
Scientists also hope that by understanding the mechanism of alcohol on the Notch protein, they may be able to develop therapies some day that mimic these effects of alcohol.