Little fizz really does lift hearts

Bubbles are a tonic for the soul and health. Photo / Martin Sykes
Bubbles are a tonic for the soul and health. Photo / Martin Sykes

Scientists are delivering some unexpected cheer this Christmas. They have found that a couple of glasses of champagne a day are good for your heart and blood circulation.

And the benefits are not limited to expensive fizz, they believe. Cheaper alternatives such as cava and prosecco may offer similar effects.

The research is the handiwork of a team led by Dr Jeremy Spencer of Reading University in Britain, working with scientists in France, and is to be published in the British Journal of Nutrition this week.

"We have found that a couple of glasses a day has a beneficial effect on the walls of blood vessels - which suggests champagne has the potential to reduce strokes and heart disease," said Dr Spencer. "It is very exciting news."

Two glasses a day of red wine, previous research has found, helps ward off heart and circulation problems.

Most of that effect comes from chemicals called polyphenols, which affect circulation by slowing down the removal of nitric oxide from the blood.

In turn, elevated levels of nitric oxide cause blood vessels to dilate, which lowers blood pressure and reduces risks of heart problems and strokes.

Polyphenols are found in relatively high levels in red but not white wine. However, they are found in champagne, which is made from two varieties of black grape, pinot noir and pinot meunier, and one of white, chardonnay.

"The question was: would champagne have the same impact as red wine or would it have the limited impact of white wine?" said Dr Spencer.

The team found champagne had a far greater impact on nitric oxide levels in the blood than did a polyphenol-free alternative of alcohol and carbonated water. In short, its polyphenols have the ability to improve blood pressure and reduce heart disease risks.

"Our data suggests that a daily moderate consumption of champagne wine may improve vascular performance via the delivery of phenolic constituents," the researchers say in their paper.

They have yet to test other types of fizz, such as cava and prosecco, but Dr Spencer said there was "no reason" in principle that they should not perform in the same way.

Red wines and champagne are not the only sources of polyphenols available to consumers, the team said. They are also found in high levels in cocoa beans.

So you could achieve the same gains without alcohol by with a mug of cocoa at bedtime, Dr Spencer added. "The benefit is certainly the same but it doesn't seem as much fun somehow."

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