The protective effects of alcoholic drinks

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Does alcohol have any beneficial effects? There is growing evidence that moderate drinking can have a beneficial effect on health. Moderate intake seems to reduce the incidence of heart disease and, apparently, people who drink have fewer colds. However, such effects may be partly due to the other constituents of drink, although alcohol itself is also believed to have some beneficial effects.

It seems clear that alcohol reduces the level of 'bad' cholesterol in the blood (known as LDL) while increasing the level of 'good' cholesterol (HDL). It dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure (but chronic alcohol intake increases it). A decrease in colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease have also been associated with moderate drinking. There is evidence, in particular, that one or perhaps two glasses of red wine a day may be beneficial. This is the so-called 'French paradox', for the level of heart disease in France is one of the lowest in the world despite a diet traditionally rich in animal fats. The French also drink more red wine than other countries, and evidence seems to suggest that components in the grapes, polyphenols such as resveratrol, may be partly responsible for the low level of heart disease. One theory put forward is that this is due to the antioxidant effects of the polyphenols. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E can react with and remove reactive chemicals called free radicals which are produced often by interaction with oxygen; indeed, oxygen radicals can also be formed. These free radicals are believed to be capable of damaging tissue, and causing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's disease. The polyphenols in the red wine may remove these free radicals. More recently, however, it has been found that constituents

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