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The French Paradox – Red Wine, Resveratrol and more…

Updated on November 28, 2016

If you are a bit of a health buff then you have no doubt heard of The French Paradox. Although you may have heard of the French paradox, you might not be entirely sure of what it is. So what is the French paradox and why should everyone who has ever been told that ‘all alcohol is bad for you’ care? Let’s find out.

What is the French Paradox?

Have you ever wondered why it is that the French seem to be able to drink as much Red Wine as they like and eat as much rich cheese and saturated fat as they like and yet remain so healthy? Southern Europe in general has an extremely low rate of Coronary Heart Disease compared with the rest of Europe or the world for that matter, even though their diet would suggest that the exact opposite should be true. Well this is what is known as The French Paradox.

This paradox baffled scientists for decades and many theories were formulated, though nothing was proven. Recent advances in science and especially into the effects of one specific antioxidant – Resveratrol – have provided startling insights into just what might be behind this fascinating French Paradox.

It’s important to mention here that the French Paradox isn’t entirely unique to France; its effects are also visible in the countries of Southern Europe or the Mediterranean, whichever description you prefer. One major common dietary denominator that links all of these countries together is the regular consumption of Red Wine and as a result, the intake of resveratrol.

What is Resveratrol?

Resveratrol is an anti-oxidant that is present in wine - especially Red Wine - something that as we've said, the French consume an awful lot of. Now we could use an array of big words here but I’m all about simplicity so quite simply Resveratrol - as an anti-oxidant – has the ability to neutralize all of those nasty free radicals that float around in your body causing damage here, there and everywhere in the form of inflammation, general illness and cancer. “But lots of other fruits and vegetables contain anti-oxidants” I hear you say and you’d be right, they do. So what is so special about resveratrol?

Studies have shown that Resveratrol goes above and beyond the activity of other natural anti-oxidants, in what areas?

Red Wine, Heart and Liver Health

In 2006 scientists carried out a series of studies on mice as they sought answers to the mystery of the French Paradox. One of those studies showed that mice who were subjected to a high calorie, high fat diet quite predictably gained weight and their livers increased in size as well as decreased in function. The same diet was then fed to another group of mice who were at the same time being treated with resveratrol, what were the results? These mice maintained a normal healthy liver and gained less weight. They also noticed less fatty lesions, degeneration and inflammation of heart tissue.

So what exactly is going on?

As we have mentioned there is obviously something special about Resveratrol and studies are still going on to find out exactly what is going on, so what’s my theory?

Anti-oxidants can be found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, drinks and other foods. Even dark chocolate is a great source of anti-oxidants. However, we subject very few of these fruits and vegetables to fermentation. Perhaps this process increases or changes the potency of resveratrol? This wouldn’t account for the general effects of resveratrol in tests if the resveratrol is extracted from grape skins before fermentation though. Could it be something specific to the region?

It is odd that the effects of The French Paradox in relation to wine consumption are linked more to France than other southern European countries. This makes me wonder if there is something special about the water of that region, possibly reacting with the grape to create certain health benefits in French Wine specifically? I’m a great fan of French water as I’ve noticed that – in general – French water seems to be naturally high in alkaline forming minerals such as calcium and bicarbonates. Could these minerals again be reacting with the grape to increase the potency and effect of resveratrol? Hopefully further studies will one day address this theory.

So let’s all get drinking, right?

Well, not so fast. We still don’t know exactly what is causing the French Paradox. Yes it could be the Red Wine on its own, but it could equally be due to other regional or dietary factors unique to France and Southern Europe. One thing that does seem to be widely accepted among individuals and those within the medical profession though is that Red Wine - in moderation - can be good for overall human health. Studies have shown that the full health benefits of resveratrol are attained by drinking no more than 2 glasses of Red Wine a day, beyond that amount the positives of resveratrol actually start to turn negative.

What about Resveratrol Supplements?

I’m not completely against supplements per-se and I have written other articles on this site exploring some of the best supplements for different ailments, I will however say this. When it comes to anti-oxidants, I’m a great believer that the chemical compounds, fibers and general make-up of the foods that house those anti-oxidants play a huge role in your body’s ability to absorb the anti-oxidant and use it effectively. One final point of note is that we also here have another example of how important it is to eat the skins of fruits when they are edible as resveratrol is only found in the skins of grapes, not in the pulp.

What do you think? Could resveratrol and red wine be responsible for the French Paradox?

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    • Don Bobbitt profile image

      Don Bobbitt 3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Great Article. I found the information interesting and supportive of other sources I have read. And, well written. Thanks forsharing, I Vote UP and Useful and am Sharing.