In the 1970s
, it was observed that, despite a large smoking populace, and diets containing rich, fatty foods (such as foie gras
), residents of France
nonetheless tended to have a lower risk of heart disease
, as well as a lower occurance of lipid
s in the bloodstream. This later led to a hypothesis
that became known as the "French Paradox".
Over the years, there have been several theories as to why the French lifespan has been of greater average longevity, despite their seemingly horrific diets. It wasn't until the 1990s, however when a new theory was discussed by scientists and popularised by the American TV show 60 Minutes: The notion that red wine, as a part of meals, plays a crucial part in reducing the risk of heart disease.
Needless to say, in a post-Reagan, "Just Say No" American society, this theory was a smack in the face of conventional wisdom, that alcohol was, in every way, "bad" for us.
Nonetheless, more and more studies pointed to similar beliefs. Studies of red wine and its effect on drinks, led to the theory that the phenols in wine perhaps act as antioxidants, in turn protecting the heart from disease, not to mention counteracting "free radicals" in the body that may lead to higher incidences of cancer.
Evidence supporting and opposing wine's role in preventing heart disease has continued to add up on both sides. In 2000, French research director Pierre Ducimetiere wrote the British Medical Journal suggesting that there was a flaw in the research used -- specifically, how the data was aggregated -- to come to such a conclusion, and that it would not be correct to come to such a conclusion based on the evidence used. Nonetheless, this has not swayed a great deal of the medical community, as there are still many who are studying supporting evidence for it. Furthermore, it should be noted that even Ducimetiere stated, "There is now much evidence that the southern European diet and other lifestyle factors play a part and may modulate the effect of cholesterol and fat in the aetiology of coronary heart disease."1
Indeed, other theories do include dietary and lifestyle provisions, with the notion of smaller and slower, more controlled portions also finding a supporting audience in the medical community.
Whatever the case, there is still much to be studied about the so-called "French Paradox", and even if it turns out to be somewhat incorrect, its study has still given us a great deal more data about what makes up a healthy diet, and what we can do to improve ours.
With that in mind, enjoy that glass of bordeaux with dinner... here's to your health!
- 1 "Why mortality from heart disease is low in France.(Letter to the Editor)" : http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m0999/7229_320/59448780/p1/article.jhtml?term=
- "60 Minutes Revisits the French Paradox
with More Good News!" : http://www.wines.com/winetrader/196hsi.html
- "Scientist explains why the French stay trim and healthy" : http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/entertainment/s_174371.html