Professor Serge Renaud’s paper, published in the British Medical Journal in 1991, helped bring wine into favor around the world. The good doctor, a Cardiologist working at the University of Bordeaux, reported that 2-3 glasses of red wine per day for males could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 40%. For women he recommended 1-2 glasses per day.
The American 60 Minutes Program interviewed the good doctor in 1992 and coined the phrase The French Paradox because the French had significantly less coronary heart disease than other western countries, yet consumed a diet rich in cholesterol and saturated fats. Also, the average cholesterol level of an older male in France is 235 mg/dl (6.1 mmol/L) and at that level, an American would be reaching for their Lipitor.
Scientists at the time claimed that the beneficial component in wine was the alcohol, which dilated the arteries and acted as an anti-clotting agent, and that all alcoholic beverages would convey benefits. But were these scientists correct?
Copenhagen Heart Study – Denmark.
In 1995 when the Copenhagen Heart Study from Denmark was published in the British Medical Journal. This was a study to analyse alcohol consumers of wine, beer, and liquor. The study tracked 24,000 men and women over a twelve-year period. The report analysed the death rates and found that only wine had a beneficial effect on reducing all-cause mortality. The Copenhagen Study proved that there was something different about wine. But what was it? What were the health properties in wine?
Antioxidants / Free Radicals.
The answer came from American food scientists who were investigating ‘free radicals’ and antioxidants. Dr. Edwin Frankel and his colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Illinois and the University of California (Davis) had done considerable study into oxidation and the benefits of anti-oxidants. When oxidation occurs in the human body it can damage living cells. However Frankel’s team observed that the natural chemicals found in plant foods were powerful anti-oxidants that counter-balanced the damaging effects of cell oxidation. In other words, oxidation is fine in the human body if there is a counter-balancing supply of anti-oxidants as found in plant foods.
So what are these chemicals found in plants? Scientists call them phytonutrient or phytochemicals and they are a general term to describe the thousands of chemicals in fruits and vegetables that give plants their colours, smell, and medicinal properties. Phyto is simply a Greek word for ‘plant’. The green in broccoli, the blue in blueberries, the red in grapes, are due to different phytonutrients.
Plant phytonutrients are a key source of anti-oxidants for the human body. Whilst the human body does have its own ability to produce anti-oxidants, the principal source of anti-oxidants is fruits and vegetables.
Frankel’s team reported in the British Medical Journal in 1993 that the phytonutrients in wine, with names like Flavonoids and Resveratrol, significantly inhibited the oxidation of lipids (ie. fats & oils) and cholesterol in human blood. It should be mentioned that a primary cause of cardiovascular disease is oxidative damage to the artery walls caused by oxidised or rancid lipids and cholesterol in the bloodstream, causing the artery walls to become inflamed, leading to the build-up of plaque that narrows the artery.
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