OK, before we get any further into this article, let's make one thing clear. Smoking cigarettes is bad for you. And by "bad," we mean each year that it kills nearly half a million people in the U.S. alone, which is about one in five people who die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's a known cause of cancer, and it has destructive effects upon just about every organ in the body, from the bones in your hips to your eyeballs. So if you can, resist the urge to light up after that holiday dinner — no matter how satisfying a little nicotine might feel.
That said, if you're going to smoke anyway, regardless of what we just told you, medical researchers recommend that you at least hold off lighting up and have a glass or two of red wine beforehand.
They're not recommending the drink to add to your enjoyment. According to a newly published study in the American Journal of Medicine, a modest amount of red wine can help stave off some of the immediate damage that smoking does to the insides of your vascular system.
In the study, German researchers looked at the biochemical effects of smoking on 20 healthy individuals — nonsmokers all — who volunteered to puff on three cigarettes apiece as part of the experiment. About an hour before lighting up, half of the subjects drank enough red wine to raise their blood alcohol content to 0.075 percent. The researchers collected blood and urine samples both before and afterward for 18 hours.
The researchers found that wine drinkers didn't suffer the changes in their vascular systems that generally are caused by smoking — inflammation and damaged cells whose wreckage forms a flood of microparticles in the bloodstream. That may be because red wine stimulates the formation of chemicals in the bloodstream that improve cellular function in coronary arteries.
Additionally, drinking wine before smoking reduced another sort of damage — harm done to the telomeres, the protective caps on the cells' chromosomes. Those caps normally shorten and provide less protection as the result of smoking.
The researchers found that in subjects who simply smoked without drinking any wine, the telomeres' protective activity decreased by 56 percent. But the wine drinkers, in contrast, only saw a 20 percent decrease.
University of Saarland researcher Dr. Viktoria Schwartz, the study's lead investigator, said in a press release that the study "adds to the present evidence that the proinflammatory effects in nonsmokers with 'occasional lifestyle smoking' could be prevented by red wine consumption."
While the study is good news of sorts for healthy people who smoke once in a while, it's unclear whether red wine provides similar protection to the elderly, the ill, or people who are frequent smokers.