Dose-related effects of red wine and alcohol on heart rate variability

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2010 Jun;298(6):H2226-31. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00700.2009. Epub 2010 Apr 23.


In healthy subjects a standard drink of either red wine (RW) or ethanol (EtOH) has no effect on muscle sympathetic nerve activity or on heart rate (HR), whereas two drinks increase both. Using time- and frequency-domain indexes of HR variability (HRV), we now tested in 12 subjects (24-47 yr, 6 men) the hypotheses that 1) this HR increase reflects concurrent dose-related augmented sympathetic HR modulation and 2) RW with high-polyphenol content differs from EtOH in its acute HRV effects. RW, EtOH, and water were provided on 3 days, 2 wk apart according to a randomized, single-blind design. Eight-minute segments were analyzed. One alcoholic drink increased blood concentrations to 36 + or - 2 mg/dl (mean + or - SE), and 2 drinks to 72 + or - 4 (RW) and 80 + or - 2 mg/dl (EtOH). RW quadrupled plasma resveratrol (P < 0.001). HR fell after both water drinks. When compared with respective baselines, one alcoholic drink had no effect on HR or HRV, whereas two glasses of both increased HR (RW, +5.4 + or - 1.2; and EtOH, +5.7 + or - 1.2 min(-1); P < 0.001), decreased total HRV by 28-33% (P < 0.05) and high-frequency spectral power by 32-42% (vagal HR modulation), and increased low-frequency power by 28-34% and the ratio of low frequency to high frequency by 98-119% (sympathetic HR modulation) (all, P < or = 0.01). In summary, when compared with water, one standard drink lowered time- and frequency-domain markers of vagal HR modulation. When compared with respective baselines, two alcoholic drinks increased HR by diminished vagal and augmented sympathetic HR modulation. Thus alcohol exerts dose-dependent HRV responses, with RW and EtOH having a similar effect.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Heart / innervation
  • Heart / physiology
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / drug effects
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Wine*


  • Ethanol