Since today is July 14th, or Bastille Day, I decided it would be a great day to tackle the “French paradox” also known as “red wine is good for you.”
According to some people, red wine is a fountain of youth. It is full of anti-oxidants, good for the heart, prolongs your life, and lowers the bad (LDL) cholesterol.
So does that mean that alcoholics turn 120 years old? Not quite. Many studies on red wine have found that the antioxidants and flavonoids, especially resveratrol, have health-enhancing effects. Resveratrol in particular is a substance of great interest. It stands behind the “French paradox,” explaining that relatively few people in France have heart problems despite a high fat diet. As a quick side note: from a scientific stand point, I find it ludicrous to believe that you could pinpoint something so complex as mortality on a single item, such as the consumption of red wine, but I digress.
Back to the topic, studies with mice have shown that those that were fed a diet high in saturated fats and got a dose of resveratrol lived longer than their counterparts on a restricted diet. In fact, the resveratrol seemed to mimic the effects of a 30% calorie reduction of the overall daily intake. The substance also seems to reduce the bad cholesterol and keep the heart healthy. The findings of this and other studies have fueled a surge in resveratrol supplements; it has been touted as an elixir for longevity and happiness. Dosages have also been increased to very high levels (the equivalent of drinking 30 liters of red wine a day to get to the same effects as in the mice studies) in order to promote cell health.
Now, mice are different from humans (unless you have rodents in your family tree), and I am not convinced that mega dosing resveratrol is such a good idea, since we do not know the long-term effects of such high dosages.
So does this mean you should just pound red wine to live longer?
No, for several reasons. First off all, resveratrol is not chemically attached to the alcohol, which means you can derive the same benefits from consuming grapes, grape juice, pomegranates, or a resveratrol supplement.
Secondly, the actual research on alcohol as a health inducing supplement is mixed. Some studies seem to suggest that small doses can be beneficial. A glass of red wine won’t hurt you, but anything more is probably not helpful. Alcohol simply adds empty calories and causes a rise in triglycerides, which offsets the health benefits of the antioxidants, flavonoids, and resveratol.
However, I do think that people who regularly enjoy a glass of red wine with friends for dinner generally have a more active social life, which makes them happier and, in the long run, healthier.
Vive la France!