The use of red wine (resveratrol) pills appear to be the rage these days and a New Jersey group of cardiologists wants to lead the way for patients and consumers to learn more about them. They may be among the first U.S. cardiologists to do so.
In response to growing inquiries about the heart-healthy properties of red wine pills, a local cardiology group says it will soon begin to study the effects of these pills among their patients with heart problems and suggests consumers consult with knowledgeable doctors before launching into unguided self use.
Jacqueline Hollywood M.D., cardiologist with the Advanced Cardiology Institute in Ft. Lee, New Jersey, says so many patients are hearing about the promises of red wine pills that their group decided to learn with their patients rather than leave them to pursue unguided use.
Dr. Hollywood says human studies are largely derived from users of red wine, not red wine pills, so there is a need for research studies, but is confident that red wine pills are safer than an alcoholic beverage.
Nate Lebowitz M.D., also a cardiologist with the Advanced Cardiology Institute, says the goal is to find out if red wine pills can actually mimic the French Paradox, the fact that red-wine drinking adults in France, who consume a high-fat and calorie-rich diet, experience a much lower mortality rate from heart disease than North Americans.
Americans first became aware of the French Paradox in 1991 when it was aired on CBS' 60 Minutes television program. Red wine resveratrol pills first gained attention late in 2003 shortly after Harvard researchers noted that a resveratrol, a molecule found in red wine, prolonged the life of yeast cells in a lab dish. Since then resveratrol has been proven to extend the life of fruit flies, roundworms, cold-water fish and high-fat fed mice.
"We will cautiously begin some studies, to measure markers, like inflammation, cholesterol, blood clotting, and maybe even imaging of coronary or carotid arteries, to see if these pills live up to their promise," says Dr. Lebowitz.
Forward thinking doctors needed
Howard Rothman M.D., a senior cardiologist at the Advanced Cardiology Institute, says their group of cardiologists has offered many tests and therapies based on credible scientific publications long before these interventions were fully tested with outcome studies and before they were more widely accepted, and red wine pills are just another example. "Patients want to know we are forward thinking, not waiting ten years for consensus. People need medical strategies and preventive care now, before they develop vascular problems," said Dr. Rothman.
Dr. Rothman says the idea of providing the heart healthy molecules found in red wine in a pill without the accompanying alcohol, sugars or calories, sounds appropriate, but that only further testing will reveal their effectiveness.
For their many patients who now inquire about these pills, the Advanced Cardiology Institutes doctors selected a red wine pill that had been previously tested in animals and humans. "There may be poorly made brands or improper dosages and we want to make sure the patients are taking a product that has the best chance of working and does not produce avoidable side effects," says Dr. Rothman.
Dr. Rothman cautions that the molecules in red wine, like resveratrol (rez-vair-ah-trawl) and quercetin (qwer-see-tin), may interfere with prescription medications, and should not be taken at the same time as red wine pills.
Side effects, while few and mostly mild and reversible, are possible, such as dizziness, fatigue, headaches and sore Achilles tendons, which are the most commonly experienced.
Red wine pills commonly feature resveratrol, a molecule that has produced strikingly positive effects in animal studies. Resveratrol inhibits blood clots, reduces inflammation and favorably alters cholesterol, among its many beneficial properties.
Red wine molecules pre-condition the heart
Dr. Lebowitz says, in animals, resveratrol has been shown to produce what is called a pre-conditioning effect for the heart. Normally a protective enzyme called heme-oxygenase is rapidly produced following a heart attack to limit damage to heart muscle tissue caused by the release of iron. In animal studies, resveratrol has been shown to trigger the production of heme-oxygenase prior to a heart attack and therefore limit damage caused by the event, he says.
Dr. Lebowitz says the pre-conditioning effect is only achieved when proper doses of resveratrol are employed. Too little and there is no benefit, and too much resveratrol and the damage caused by a heart attack will be worsened. "This is why we want to guide our patients, rather than leave them to navigate in the use of these red wine dietary supplements on their own," he says.
Resveratrol is fast becoming a household word as it now widely extolled as a potential longevity molecule. Resveratrol and other small molecules found in red wine can enter living cells and influence genetic machinery. One widely studied gene pathway, activated by resveratrol, is the Sirtuin1 gene, known as a survival gene. The current idea is to develop pills that will mimic the effects of a calorie-restricted diet, which is known to double the lifespan of all living organisms.
Doctors at the Advanced Cardiology Institute have chosen to dispense red wine pills directly to patients to better monitor usage and compliance.
The red wine pills are dispensed at Advanced Cardiology Institute, so the doctors can monitor usage and compliance. Generally, patients return to the office every four months for re-examination.
"These pills may be a boon to cardiology," says Dr. Hollywood, "if they do in humans what they have been shown to do in animals, and among the red wine drinkers in France. Hopefully, we will know soon."
— GARRETT MORRISON, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM