Red Wine, Resveratrol and The French Paradox

A wonderful fellow hubber, The Sandman, asked me what I knew about Resveratrol. At the time I knew very little except it was the miracle found in red wine. I told him I would have to look into it. Here is what I found out.

The French Paradox

The French Paradox is a phenomenom that has been studied for years. Why is it that the French eat so many rich, high-fat foods, yet remain slim with relatively few cardiac problems. In America, we are trained from a young age that eating rich, high-fat foods will make you fat and make you die of a heart attack at an early age. So we eat fat-free yogurt, fat-free cheese, fat-free sour cream even fat-free salad dressings. The fat free choices abound these days. But we are still heavier and have more heart disease than the French who are eating croissants, full-fat cheese, pastry, butter, cream...oh my mouth is watering!

It barely seems fair. Americans diet, depriving themselves of tasty food, opting for bland and fat-free fare, while the French are feasting daily. I wish I had a few of those French genes. If I do, there are not enough to make a difference! Then I realized, it may not be just good genes. What is it that the French do different? Can I learn something from them?

Red Wine

In 1991 NBC's 60 Minutes ran a spot about the French Paradox. The research at the time was speculating that red wine was the cause of the French Paradox. The French drink an inordinate amount of red wine. The French, however, do not consume an inordinate amount in one sitting. Red wine is routinely taken with meals, but never more than one or two glasses. And always with food.

Red wine studies increased and it was found to have certain flavonoids that boost health. Flavonoid's beneficial effects come from their antioxidant properties. During natural processes our bodies produce free radicals. Just like political radicals, these free radicals favor drastic changes in their environment. These changes can cause a number of ailments from heart disease to cancer. It is theorized that free radicals are also responsible for the aging process. Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals, decreasing their harm on the body.

The current darling of the flavonoid family is resveratrol. The studies on resveratrol have shown some amazing results. Two men in particular have discovered a veritable fountain of youth in this flavonoid. David Sinclair first found that resveratrol extended the life span of yeast cells. Christoph Westphal was so encouraged by this news that he sought out Sinclair for a meeting.  After speaking Westphal decided to help Sinclair obtain the necessary funds to continue his research.

Sirtuin Gene

The sirtuin gene is found in most life forms. This gene is usually inactive. It seems to be activated as a defense mechanism to certain conditions. For decades scientists have known that prolonged hunger can activate this gene. This gene when activated seems to extend the life span of these mammals 20% to 30%. It has been proven with mice, and more recently with monkeys.

When activated this gene not only appears to prolong life, but also decreases the inflammation that has been linked with several age-related diseases such as heart disease, neurodegeneration, arthritis and cancer. It also has an effect on fat cells and the regulation of fat storage. It has effects on insulin production. The combination of it's effects on fat and insulin shows promise in preventing or delaying the onset of Type II Diabetes.

Restricting caloric intake by 30% to 40% of the normal for the species activates this gene. So, it seems, does resveratrol. Rats fed a diet which included high doses of resveratrol not only lived 30% longer than the control group (fed no resveratrol), but also could run farther and were leaner.

Sinclair and Westphal, and their company Sirtris, are the foundation of the current research on resveratrol. They have developed a compound they call SRT501 that keeps resveratrol in it's active form and increases absorption by 5 times. They had studied many over-the-counter preparations of resveratrol and found many had no active resveratrol, (the kind needed by the body), while others had it in amounts insignificant to make a difference in humans.

Back to Red Wine

All of this data seems fabulous, but remember FDA testing usually takes a minimum of 7 years. And the FDA does not acknowledge aging as a disease. Long term studies have not been done to observe the effects of high-dose resveratrol treatment in humans, and side effects are unknown. The amount of red wine you would need to drink to get the required dose of resveratrol is about 200 glasses of wine daily. This is not really an option.

Red Wine has other cardiobeneficial effects when consumed in moderation. (Moderation means 1-2 glasses daily.) A glass or two of wine consumed with your meal will relax you. Relaxation is an effective means of lowering blood pressure. Red wine has also been shown to increase your HDL's (good cholesterol) while decreasing your LDL's (bad cholesterol). Finally, it also works on you blood to reduce the chance of blood clots and fatty build-up.

So even if you probably won't get the doses of resveratrol necessary to extend life, there are benefits to drinking a glass or two of red wine daily. These benefits don't seem to be enough to explain the French Paradox. There must be something more. This something more may very well be eating habits. Notice I do not say diet. The French do not diet!

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Comments 18 comments

Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

The French also eat smaller quantities of food than we Americans (no such thing as Super-Sizing). They also walk rather than drive their cars everywhere.

Anyway, excellent hub. Thanks for exposing the current resveratrol "scam" that the offerings don't contain any significant amount of the flavenoid.

Meanwhile, how much do you wanna bet that somewhere, somehow, someone will read your "200 glasses of red wine a day" and interpret it as a green light to try to consume that much! LOL. MM

k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California Author

Hi Mighty Mom, I'm writing the other half right now. I had wanted to make it one hub, but it started getting much too long!

LOL, I don't think there is enough time in the day to consume 200 glasses, is there?

Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

I dunno, K@ri. That's "only" 8.3 glasses an hour. I'm not going to try it, tho. The very thought makes me gag. MM

k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California Author

LOLOL, Don't you think you would just explode after a couple of hours? I am gagging with you! :D

Ladybird33 profile image

Ladybird33 7 years ago from Georgia USA

Loved this hub. I learned a lot and you did clarify a few things for me too. Thanks.

k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California Author

Ladybird, Thanks! I'm glad I could help clarify. The next one on their eating habits makes much more sense to me as the reason behind the paradox.

Paper Moon profile image

Paper Moon 7 years ago from In the clouds

Many of the fats that we eat in America are unhealthy. Healthy fats have essencial nutrients and of course red wine (and white- just that red works a tad bit better) helps break up the "healthy fats".

My wife and I went to a "wine tasting" class. We thought, oh good, we will learn how to swill with the snobs. There were no terms, "fruity bouquet, with hints of citrus and an almond oak-y finish". There were no palette cleansers between wines, (bread, crackers, cheese). This course was through a college so we assumed it would be a first class learning affair. No, 18 bottles of wine, one after the other. We were so plastered by the end of the first night, we stopped at a restaurant to sober up. We spent over $300 on food. (we were in no shape to order).

Loved your hub. Thx. :)

TheSandman 7 years ago

Thank you for this Hub/information

k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California Author

Paper Moon, LOL, That sounds like some class...I guess you learned not to go out to eat after 18 bottles of wine! I sure hope the food was good. :D

Sandman, You are welcome. I added something to the top...I meant to have put it on earlier, but my mind seems to be wandering a bit today. :D

I*n*v*i*c*t*u*s profile image

I*n*v*i*c*t*u*s 7 years ago

This is an awesome hub! Great info! There is actually a nutritional drink which you can take a shot of each day which apparently gives you the same benefits of an abundance of red wine! The name escapes me, yet I will try to look it up! Great job k@ri! :)

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

200 glasses of red wine a day eh. Well I could give it a go

k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California Author

Thanks Invictus, I would love to know the name of that drink. All the good without the alcohol? Sounds like something to try.

ethel, Don't you dare! LOL, You'll end up looking like that girl who turned into the blueberry in Willy Wonka...but you will be a giant grape. :D

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

Mighty fine Hub here. Solid science for a longer, healthier life! Thanks!

k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California Author

James, I am glad you liked it! It seems to be some pretty solid science...let's hope they get the trials done, it does what it should and they get it on the market! :D

Alessia profile image

Alessia 7 years ago from Italy

It is not that much about drinking red wine or about genes, it's more about an overall balanced diet and not eating processed foods! That is what most Americans are doing wrong.

k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California Author

Alessia, I agree and I wrote a "part two" to this hub about it. It makes more sense than the red wine theory to me.

Riggie 7 years ago

Lifestyle has more to do with it than what we consume. i live in rural alabama and have neighbors in there 90's who consume high fat as well as high vegetable diets with absolutely no alcohol consumption. It is all in how you face life. Stress is very low when the only motivational factor you have in life is yourself and yourself doesn't put material goods at the forefront....I have never been to France but i have heard that a Stressful lifestyle is rare in that country,,,Drinking wine reduces stress ... long savory lunches reduce stress.... etc. etc..

k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California Author

Riggie, I couldn't agree more! Stress is a killer. Thanks for the comment! :D

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