Scientists have discovered that a well-known molecule called Notch may be behind alcohol's beneficial effects.
The find could help scientists create a new treatment for heart disease that mimics the beneficial influence of modest alcohol consumption.
"Any understanding of a socially acceptable, modifiable activity that many people engage in, like drinking, is useful as we continue to search for new ways to improve health," said Eileen M. Redmond at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
"If we can figure out at the basic science level how alcohol is beneficial it wouldn't translate to doctors prescribing people to drink, but hopefully will lead to the development of a new therapy for the millions of people with coronary heart disease," she added.
The study, conducted in mince, revealed that moderate levels of consumption - generally considered one to three drinks per day - inhibits Notch, and subsequently prevents the build-up of smooth muscle cells in blood vessels, which contributes to narrowing of the arteries and can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
"Now that we've identified Notch as a cell signaling pathway regulated by alcohol, we're going to delve deeper into the nuts and bolts of the process to try to find out exactly how alcohol inhibits Notch in smooth muscle cells," said David Morrow an instructor in the Department of Surgery at the Medical Center.
The study is published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.