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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Fair and Balanced

Understanding wine's effect on heart disease

The alcoholic fraction of wine may contribute indirectly to the antioxidant capacity of the beverage by increasing the bioavailability of its phenolic compounds.

By John Russo/

VICUS.COM (07 March 2000) -- Although wine consumption in moderate amounts is believed to protect against coronary heart disease, the mechanism is not completely understood. 

In order to determine the contribution of the alcohol in wine to this effect, a group of 10 healthy people drank 113 mL of tap water, alcohol-free red wine and alcohol- free white wine at one-week intervals. After each session, measurements were made of their plasma antioxidant capacity (reported as total radical-trapping antioxidant parameter (TRAP) ), and whether this response was associated with increased phenolic compounds in their plasma.

The results presented in the table illustrate that alcohol-free wine possesses peroxyl-radical scavenger activity in vitro, with red wine being 20 times more active as measured by TRAP. This effect is dose-dependent.

Once in the body, wine's phenolic fraction is precipitated by proteins; however, increasing amounts of alcohol in wine will partially restore the antioxidant activity lost as a consequence of this interaction. Thus, the alcoholic fraction of wine, by reducing the chemical interactions between proteins and red wine phenolic compounds, may contribute indirectly to the antioxidant capacity of wine by increasing the bioavailability of its phenolic compounds.


Plasma Antioxidant Capacity


Polyphenol Concentration

(quercetin equivalent) 

Alcohol- free Red Wine

40.0 0.1 mmol/L

363 48.0 mg/L

Alcohol- free White Wine

1.9 0.1 mmol/L

31    1 mg/L

John Russo, Jr. PharmD, is senior vice president of medical communications at He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20 years of experience in medical education. 


Source: Serafini M, Maiani G, Ferro-Luzzi A. J Nutr, 1998; 128(6):1003-7 1998.