Scientists at the University of Seville in Spain report in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture that sherry, like red wine, contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which reduce the occurrence of heart disease. They work by preventing the oxidation of Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL), associated with the disease, report the researchers.
As well as beating LDL levels, the scientists say that drinking sherry can also increase the body's production of High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, associated with longevity and a decreased incidence of coronary artery disease.
"Sherry is widely consumed, especially in Spain and the UK, and we have shown that its moderate intake decreased total cholesterol and increased HDL-cholesterol," said lead researcher Juan Guerrero.
For the study rats were given daily quantities of sherry, the equivalent of a 150ml serving in an adult weighing 70kg. Control rats were given the same amount of either water or ethanol in water.
Intake of sherry every day at 16:00 over two months did not affect the weight of the rats or have any other significant impact on other metabolic processes - but it did result in the decrease in serum total (bad) cholesterol and an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol, report the researchers.
Four of the most commonly produced sherries in Andalucia, Spain, bearing the generic names Oloroso, Manzanilla, Fino and Amontillado, were tested. All four types had the same effect.
"As a general rule, moderate consumption of red wine exerts beneficial effects for health. In our research, the beneficial effects of red wine can be extended to sherry wines," concluded Guerrero.
Some researchers have however questioned whether it is the alcohol content that protects the heart rather than antioxidants. Positive effects on heart health in beer, which contains lower levels of polyphenols, have also been reported.
Moderate drinking has also been associated with reduced risk of dementia.