Red wine and “The French Paradox”

What is the French Paradox? ©Sciengist

The French live healthier lives, can they thank red wine? ©Sciengist




Do you know that despite consuming a diet high in fat, the French suffer less from heart disease and live healthier lives while the rest of us are ballooning?

Scientists have arguably attributed this so called "French paradox" to a particular compound found in red wine, called Resveratrol.

Australia produces some of the world’s best wines

I assume the majority of you will agree that in the title, red wine is the easiest to relate to, although “The French Paradox” sounds intriguing. A few years ago, I had a curious conversation with a scientist in my university about her research on a compound found in red wine. The potential health benefits of that compound in red wine left a mark in my mind and kindled my interests to find out more. Having lived in the state of Souhth Australia for some years, famous for its wine production, my interest in researching about that particular compound in red wine inspired me to write this article.

South Australia produces more than half of Australia’s wine and it is home to some of the most famous wines such as Penfold’s Grange, Henschke Hill of Grance, and other well-known producers: Jacob’s Creek (do you remember this name from the sponsors of Australian open tennis tournament?) and Yalumba.

I recall in a conference in Germany, a professor mentioned to me that Australian Shiraz is “very thick”. I am not an expert on wine but I can assure you that the full-bodied Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is not only delicious, but also world-class. Now you know what researchers and professors do in conferences - talk about a plethora of banal things including wines (although they do present their research work as well!).

Despite consuming a diet relatively high in fat, the French suffer less heart disease = French Paradox

Image created by Sciengist with the data obtained from ©Sciengist

Global obesity rates ©Sciengist

“The French Paradox”

What the heck is it?

People from some countries such as France, Italy and Greece suffer much less heart diseases than other countries despite consuming a diet relatively high in fat.

According to 2014 projected data from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), France has very low rates of overweight and obese individuals within the population with a combined value of nearly 40%.

It is quite ironic, isn’t it? The French should theoretically suffer the most with their type of diet, but no!

If it makes you jealous of the French, take a sigh, these values in France have remained constant for the past 20 years, although they are projected to be growing slightly whereas the rest of us are ballooning!

Regular consumption of red wine may be the key to the French Paradox

Researchers began looking into this paradox actively in the 1990s and proposed that the regular consumption of red wine in moderate amounts (yes, underline that please!) may explain this phenomenon.

What a discovery by the scientists!

But the French and the Mediterranean presumably already knew this? The general effects of alcohol in increasing the quantities of high-density lipoproteins (good and healthy fat), which act by removing cholesterol from tissues, are well known. However, these benefits are shown to be further increased by consuming red wine which includes compounds that have antioxidant and anti platelet activity.

Resveratrol is the magical ingredient in red wine

Potential health benefits of Resveratrol in red wine. ©Sciengist

Potential health benefits of Resveratrol in red wine ©Sciengist

In case you are wondering what these antioxidant and antiplatelet activities do, they can have protective effects on the heart by preventing clogging of blood vessels and maintaining a healthy blood flow to the heart. Thus, in simple terms, prevent heart disease.

The specific substances in red wine attributed to the beneficial effects on the heart (and “The French Paradox”) are called flavonoids and the most important among them is Resveratrol.

Resveratrol, (I know-most of the names coined by scientists are tongue twisters aren’t they?) has been researched a lot and has generated a great deal of interest in the last two decades with more than 6000 scientific journal publications suggesting many more potential benefits of the substance.

Resveratrol is also found in foods like berries, dark chocolates and many others but red wine has large amounts.

Still a long way to establish the true benefits of Resveratrol

While the list of potential benefits of Resveratrol ever grows, many scientists also believe that there is still a long way to go to establish its effects with conviction, leave aside it being used as a drug. Notwithstanding the number of publications on the health benefits of this substance, caution is advised by many.

Some of the criticisms include (which are not far from truth!): most of the studies are done in non-human models, not enough is known on the clearance of the substance from the body and also its side effects. However, there are already many companies now which manufacture Resveratrol and use it as a prescription drug. God save us!

A recent study in two villages of Chianti in Italy which included 783 people over the age of 65 and who consumed a diet rich in Resveratrol, has shown that they lived no longer and their risk of heart disease was similar to those who consumed less Resveratrol. Scientists like to contradict themselves, don’t they?

It would be foolish to drink large amounts of red wine as: 1) the levels of Resveratrol can vary depending on the quality of the wine and 2) there are known ill health effects of heavy alcohol consumption.

Long live the French, thanks to red wine?

Irrespective of what the research on Reveratrol says, the French will continue to consume what they consume but quite notably they will continue to live longer, healthier lives!

Whatever the final judgment on Resveratrol might be, the most important thing is to enjoy wine in a responsible way, by wishing “Sante”, “Salud”, “Cin-Cin” or “Cheers”!

And importantly, my region of South Australia will continue to produce great quality wines. I just had a peep at my Grant Burge Shiraz, presented to me by a dear friend a while ago, and I am waiting for the right moment to enjoy it. Responsibly, of course!

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