Most people are already familiar with the health benefits of wine and the French Paradox- the term was coined on Sunday, 12th November 1991, on the '60 Minutes' TV Programme by CBS and viewed by over 20 million Americans. Evidence was produced by Dr. Serge Renaud, Research Director, Segalen University in Bordeaux that the French who eat a lot more fat than the Americans, smoke more cigarettes and barely exercise have only one-third the incidence of cardiac heart disease (CHD). They are the second highest drinkers of wine and have the second lowest rate of heart diseases in the world. The studies had linked this Paradox to the French habit of regular, moderate wine drinking with food.
Importance of this finding has had universal repercussions. Positive effects of wine and alcohol in moderate quantities have been confirmed in over a hundred studies since then. An International Wine and Heart Health Summit organized in 2001 by the Desert Heart Foundation, Arizona to share the latest findings was followed by the Second Summit from 15th to 17th February, 2003, in Napa Valley, California. Over a hundred doctors and several researchers, wine connoisseurs and important thought leaders including Dr. Renaud, Dr. Arthur Klatsky, the well-known cardiologist and a pioneer in ,several important studies in alcohol and heart relationship and James Laube Senior Editor of the Wine Spectator attended 'Beyond the French.
Paradox'. Topics like Biology of Wine, How wine alters the Pathophysiology of Atherosclerosis, Managing Coronary Artery Disease, Linking wine to Cardiovascular Health, were discussed by famous enologists, heart specialists, wine masters and physician winemakers- a growing breed of doctors who have combined pleasure with business and set up their own wineries.
Dr. Klatsky had published an article as early as 1974 that reported an inverse relationship between alcohol drinking and CHD. This highly acclaimed cardiologist says, "abstinence can be hazardous to some person's health." His group at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland analyzed the different studies done on a total of 1.3 lakh patients between 1978-85 and their status in 1998. He concluded that those who had one or two alcoholic drinks a day had 32% less risk of dying from CHD than non-drinkers. He feels, however, that no one should drink as a primary means to protect oneself against heart disease.
Dr. Serge Reynaud also concludes from a study of middle aged men in Nancy (East France) that a moderate daily intake of wine resulted in a lower risk of death due to CHD (40%), cancer (22%), and all causes (33%). A moderate intake of alcohol from beer also lowered the risk from CHD but not cancer. However, he cautions against using the results as an incentive to start drinking.
Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, Director, Institute of Lifestyle and Health, Boston University indicated from one of his studies that alcohol was the only lifestyle factor increasing the HDL cholesterol by 10 -20% when taken in moderation regularly. 'Regularly' is the keyword because the effect of increasing HDL lasts for upto 48 hours only. Wine also has a favourable effect on blood coagulation and fibrinolysis, lowering the risk of thrombosis occluding an artery narrowed by atherosclerosis. In simple terms, it acts as a blood thinner and needs to be taken regularly. He cautions, however, against irresponsible drinking which includes drinking on empty stomach and binge drinking. While some studies have shown a fall in cancer with wine drinking, one type of cancer that may relate even to a moderate alcohol consumption is breast cancer among women. Though results of his study over 25-50 years of follow- up indicate no increase in the risk of breast cancer, other studies do suggest a slight increase. But several studies have now shown that adequate intake of folates blocks any increase in the risk of breast cancer. Folates are found in leafy greens, fruits and whole grains. You can also take them in the form of pills. But a word of caution-you must also take vitamin B12 with it to avoid any neurological problems.