Have you heard about the French Paradox? It’s something that has troubled scientists, fashionistas, dieticians and anybody not French for years. The question is as follows: how do the French maintain such low mortality rates from coronary heart disease while eating food that is so high in saturated fats and smoking copious amounts of cigarettes? Were they all just born lucky, blessed with amazing genes? Or could there be something else, something, say, such as the fact that they drink large amounts of? This speculation led to many scientific investigations into the nature of , and the discovery of a polyphenolic compound called resveratrol. Suddenly resveratrol was being touted as a cure-all, able to prevent , heart attacks, and even aging. Doctors began prescribing a glass of per day, and the health benefits seemed endless. But how much of this is hype, how much hard fact? Let’s take a look and sort the truth from fiction, and see whether red wine really is a wine saver-or a delicious hoax.
First, let’s take a look at what’s in red wine. The two key ingredients that get people excited are flavonoids and resveratrol, both of which are polyphenolic compounds found in select plants, vegetables and fruits.
Everybody knows that vegetables and fruits are good for you, and some scientists are beginning to actively suspect that the reason might be in part due to flavonoids, while resveratrol has been linked to exciting studies on the prevention ofand aging.
While it would be fun to be sensationalist and proclaim that yes, flavonoids and resveratrol ares, the results of the many scientific studies are mixed. When it comes to preventing Cardiovascular Disease, significant reductions have been associated with alcoholic beverages, but not necessarily any particular component within them. And while both flavonoids and resveratrol have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other potentially anti-atherogenic properties, they’ve not been conclusively linked with preventing cardiovascular disease-the reason being that in some studies wine lowered the risk of heart disease more than beer and spirits, while in others that didn’t correlate. Also there’s speculation that the people who drink wine are contextually healthier than those who drink beer and spirits (diet, exercise, etc).
Excitingly, both resveratrol and flavonoids have been shown to inhibit the proliferation of a variety of human cancer lines, ranging from breast, prostate, stomach, colon, pancreatic, and thyroid cancers. However (and this is the key part to this entire article) this has only been demonstrated in animal studies under laboratory conditions at exceedingly high doses. One of the things about resveratrol that is rarely mentioned is that it has a very limited bioavailability, meaning that little of it passes into the blood stream, with most being converted into resveratrol metabolites. Thus the lab conditions are exposing cells to almost 100 times as much of the chemical as anything you would ever expose your own cells to (except briefly the cells lining your stomach).
This goes for flavonoids. Research has shown very exciting results on animals under laboratory conditions, ranging from cancer to vascular endothelial function to neurodegenerative disease, nothing conclusive has been shown on trials conducted with humans.
So what should you get from this? Basically that resveratrol and flavonoids have been linked to incredibly exciting studies with animals in mega-high doses, and that while it’s possible such benefits will be extended to humans, nothing conclusive has yet been shown in scientific researches. Does this mean you should stop enjoying that glass of red wine? Ha! Of course not! But next time you pour yourself some Pinot Noir, raise it in a toast to the prospective benefits, and join us in hoping some evidence will soon be forthcoming that half the claims are true!