The French Paradox – a certain je ne sais quoi

In 1992, French scientists Serge Renaud and Michel de Lorgeril concluded that despite a diet rich in saturated fat and other harmful lifestyle habits — especially noting a very high rate of heavy cigarette smoking — French people have a low incidence of cardiovascular issues.

They termed this phenomenon the “French Paradox” in which they hypothesized that the resveratrol in red wine was responsible for this protective ability. Not that I’m promoting a life of heavy smoking and excessive drinking but there seems to be a link between taking foods that contain this bio-active ingredient and protection from cardiovascular diseases and this requires some further thought and investigation.

Resveratrol has been identified in more than 70 different plant species such as grapevines, legumes and pines and its synthesis seems to increase in response to injuries, UV radiation and fungal infections.

A decade after the French Paradox was proposed, resveratrol has been found to be related to the lengthening of life span in certain organisms although it is still under investigation as to whether this effect is expressed in mammals, as well as in more simple lifeforms.

It is clear however that resveratrol offers both metabolic and the cardiovascular benefits including protection against platelet aggregation. This effect reduces the susceptibility of platelets to stick to and clump within the arteries. Other studies inform that resveratrol improves cerebral blood flow and significant antioxidant protection against free radical damage.

Still other studies indicate that resveratrol might be a key ingredient that reduces low-density lipoprotein and helps prevent blood clots. It also may be linked to lowering the risk of inflammation and the cascade of diseases linked with high levels of inflammation.

More research is necessary to determine the extent of that propensity. I’m wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol especially if there is a history of alcohol abuse, because alcohol can have very serious harmful effects on the body and mind.

Some of the risks associated with alcohol consumption are: liver and pancreas disease and failure, heart failure, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, stroke, accidents, violence and suicide because of incapacitation, weight gain and obesity.

Alcohol consumption should be avoided completely if you are pregnant, have a personal or family history of alcoholism, have liver or pancreas disease associated with alcohol consumption, have heart disease, or take aspirin or other medications daily that are contraindicated with alcohol consumption. If you do already drink some red wine, do so in moderation.

For otherwise healthy adults this translates to one drink a day for women, and up to one drink a day for men over the age of 65, up to two drinks a day for men younger than 65. Younger men have more of an enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol.

A drink size is smaller than you might think. In this day and age of “super-size me,” sizes have crept up not just in plate sizes but also in glass sizes. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Not water glasses full.

Other great dietary sources of resveratrol besides red wine include chocolate, peanuts, soybeans, pomegranates, blueberries, and cranberries and, of course, red grapes and red or purple grape juice. Only red wine contains resveratrol in any significant quantity compared with white wine, since in the making of white wine, the colored grape skins are not included in the fermentation phase.

Resveratrol is a beneficial compound found in many healthful foods. It doesn’t have to be that you drink alcohol to benefit by its significant health-giving properties. You can also take supplements with resveratrol in them and that way reap the benefits with no calories. Remember that alcohol is a toxin, that’s why they call it intoxication.

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Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified Personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-8119 cell/text, www.janerileyfitness.com.

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