Heart and Circulatory Physiology

Dose-related effects of red wine and alcohol on hemodynamics, sympathetic nerve activity, and arterial diameter

Jonas Spaak, Anthony C. Merlocco, George J. Soleas, George Tomlinson, Beverley L. Morris, Peter Picton, Catherine F. Notarius, Christopher T. Chan, John S. Floras


The cardiovascular benefits of light to moderate red wine consumption often have been attributed to its polyphenol constituents. However, the acute dose-related hemodynamic, vasodilator, and sympathetic neural effects of ethanol and red wine have not been characterized and compared in the same individual. We sought to test the hypotheses that responses to one and two alcoholic drinks differ and that red wine with high polyphenol content elicits a greater effect than ethanol alone. Thirteen volunteers (24–47 yr; 7 men, 6 women) drank wine, ethanol, and water in a randomized, single-blind trial on three occasions 2 wk apart. One drink of wine and ethanol increased blood alcohol to 38 ± 2 and 39 ± 2 mg/dl, respectively, and two drinks to 72 ± 4 and 83 ± 3 mg/dl, respectively. Wine quadrupled plasma resveratrol (P < 0.001) and increased catechin (P < 0.03). No intervention affected blood pressure. One drink had no heart rate effect, but two drinks of wine increased heart rate by 5.7 ± 1.6 beats/min; P < 0.001). Cardiac output fell 0.8 ± 0.3 l/min after one drink of ethanol and wine (both P < 0.02) but increased after two drinks of ethanol (+0.8 ± 0.3 l/min) and wine (+1.2 ± 0.3 l/min) (P < 0.01). One alcoholic drink did not alter muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA), while two drinks increased MSNA by 9–10 bursts/min (P < 0.001). Brachial artery diameter increased after both one and two alcoholic drinks (P < 0.001). No beverage augmented, and the second wine dose attenuated (P = 0.02), flow-mediated vasodilation. One drink of ethanol dilates the brachial artery without activating sympathetic outflow, whereas two drinks increase MSNA, heart rate, and cardiac output. These acute effects, which exhibit a narrow dose response, are not modified by red wine polyphenols.

  • microneurography
  • sympathetic nervous system
  • blood pressure
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • risk factors
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