February is American Heart Month. While you may send and receive greeting cards with cartoon hearts for Valentine’s Day, it’s also a good time of year to check in on your heart health. A healthy diet, regular exercise, stress reduction, and routine preventive screenings are vital to supporting heart health before, during, and after cancer treatment.
Perhaps you have heard that red wine is a heart-healthy alcoholic beverage. However, evidence is mixed on whether drinking red wine is harmful or beneficial, especially for people with cancer. We regularly talk about the need for a high-quality diet that is full of variety – rich in fruits and vegetables, relatively low in most animal fats, and as minimally processed as possible. Plant-based foods, including wine (which is made from grapes), contain phytonutrients – biologically active substances that provide support for healthy body and digestive function. Resveratrol, a phytonutrient found in the skins and seeds of grapes and red wine, has been a hot topic over the last years.
Resveratrol is a polyphenol – a type of compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. In your body, antioxidants scavenge for free radicals, potentially reducing harmful damage to DNA. Researchers have focused on the antioxidant activity of resveratrol in preventing or actively inhibiting cancer progression. This has led some people to tout wine as a healthy beverage.
Unfortunately, the evidence is not clear-cut between health benefits of resveratrol and potential risks of drinking alcohol – resveratrol was called a double-edged sword in a 2018 article reviewing its biochemistry when consumed through red or white wine. Alcohol itself is classified as a carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent, through multiple potential mechanisms. Although small amounts of alcohol may provide some heart-protective effects, alcohol misuse, including excessive long-term or binge/short-term use, is known to contribute to at least six different types of cancers as well as cardiomyopathy (weakening of heart muscles) and atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heart rhythm).
American Heart Month in February is a good time to focus on your heart health. We suggest the following, based on the recommendations from the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH):
- Avoid or limit consuming alcohol. If you consume alcohol, limit to no more than two drinks per day for males and no more than one drink per day for females. For survivors of cancer, consider removing alcohol from your diet altogether.
- Get antioxidants, including resveratrol, from whole, plant-based foods. Peanuts, blueberries, cranberries, pistachios and grapes (both green and red) – even peanut butter! – all have resveratrol in addition to healthy plant fibers and other phytonutrients.
- Support a happy, healthy heart through regular exercise. The AICR, NIH, and American Heart Association (AHA) recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week.
- Ensure you are up to date on your heart health screenings. For prevention, we recommend visits with your physician annually to monitor body weight and blood pressure, as well as every few years to monitor blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Consult your physician for any specific questions on your heart health and how to screen for any potential issues.
To learn more about the connection between cancer and alcohol, read our blog post.
References & Additional Resources:
- Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol & Your Health https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/
- Move More: Making Physical Activity Routine https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/resources/move-more-making-physical-activity-routine
- American Heart Month: Another Opportunity to Examine Your Relationship with Alcohol https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/news-events/announcement/american-heart-month-another-opportunity-examine-your-relationship-alcohol
- Heart Smart Basics: What You Should Know to Keep Yours Healthy https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/american-heart-month
- Resveratrol. Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/resveratrol
- Salehi B, Mishra AP, Nigam M, Sener B, Kilic M, Sharifi-Rad M, Fokou PVT, Martins N, Sharifi-Rad J. Resveratrol: A Double-Edged Sword in Health Benefits. Biomedicines. 2018 Sep 9;6(3):91. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines6030091. PMID: 30205595; PMCID: PMC6164842.