US scientists suggest the potent antioxidant resveratrol may have a protective effect on the heart by limiting the effects of a condition called cardiac fibrosis.
"Overactive cardiac fibroblasts cause fibrosis of the heart tissue, which then loses its ability to efficiently pump blood," said Joshua Bomser, a study co-author and an assistant professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University.
This latest study will provide food formulators with more ammunition to tackle the growing market for heart health positioned food products.
With nearly one in three global deaths, about 16.7 million, resulting from various forms of cardiovascular disease, the food industry is rolling out a growing number of food products designed to tackle this market. Set to grow 7.6 per cent in the UK market alone, according to Datamonitor, these foods are slated to achieve sales of £145 million in the UK by 2007. This is second only to gut health in terms of purpose categories.
And ingredients spearing the market cover a wide range. Tea, for example, the second most consumed beverage in the world is believed to lower cholesterol levels and protect against heart attacks.
While resveratrol is already known for helping to prevent blood clots and also possibly reducing cholesterol, this is the first time that scientists have studied the compound's direct impact on heart cells, say the researchers whose findings are published online at the American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology.
Even though the researchers in this latest study were unable to identify how much resveratrol is needed to be beneficial, previous studies suggest that drinking red wine in moderation - one or two five-ounce glasses a day - may offer protective effects.
The amount of resveratrol in a bottle of red wine can vary between types of grapes and growing seasons, according to the researchers. But nearly all dark red wines - merlot, cabernet, zinfandel, shiraz and pinot noir - contain resveratrol.
The health implications of red wine consumption appear to be filtering through to the consumer. A report from analysts Euromonitor last year predicted that still red wine will exhibit by far the fastest growth in both volume and value terms between 2002 and 2007.
Their study claims that red wine is forecast to record global value sales of US$82 billion (€61.5 bn) in 2007, a rise of some 31 per cent from 2002.
Global volume sales are expected to see an increase of 22 per cent to 13 billion litres over the same period.