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Wear red and DRINK red for women’s heart health

This Friday Feb 2nd is the annual “wear red” day in Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness for women’s heart health. Why only a day for the number one threat to women’s health? Women are 5 times more likely to succumb to heart disease than breast cancer, which gets a whole month (October.) Another contradiction is that the advice women hear about prevention of breast cancer is the opposite of what you can do to lower the risk of heart disease: a daily glass of wine. Even one drink a day raises your risk of breast cancer, we are told, ignoring the overriding benefits of wine on heart health.

Drink red wine to live longer

Here’s why I think women should also “drink red.” For starters, wine helps de-stress and celebrates life. Stress is a factor in heart disease, and if that were the only way wine helped it would be worth considering. But the medical evidence is also strong: a daily glass of red wine helps raise the HDL “good cholesterol” levels, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular problems.  You may have heard that the “French paradox” was a myth, but it is alive and well: women who have a glass of wine daily with meals live longer on average than those who don’t.

A glass of wine is a simple thing with a powerful effect, particularly for peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women. According to women’s health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider, quoted in a recent article in the Wine Spectator, estrogen suppresses production of the enzyme (ADH) that metabolizes alcohol; as estrogen levels decline, ADH increases, so women handle alcohol more like men. Estrogen is protective against heart disease, so the benefits of red wine help maintain the protection later in life.

The alcohol-cancer dilemma: Why wine is still OK

The downside of a daily drink is the association of alcohol with some types of cancer. Recent studies conclude that any level of consumption raises risk, and breast cancer is second after lung cancer for women. But here’s the good news: if you stick to red wine, and limit bingeing, you are certainly within a low risk category and might actually be reducing your odds of breast cancer. Maybe it’s the antioxidants like resveratrol, maybe it’s wine’s association with healthy living, or both. Either way, remember it is the overall benefit to health and longevity that matters most.

So wear red, drink red, and share it with a friend. 

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