TAG | French Paradox
Resveratrol has recently attracted great interest in connection with the the so-called “French Paradox” which has long puzzled medical science. As a polyphenol type flavonoid it is in any case a very useful anti-oxidant, but many now believe it also to be the explanation of the relatively low rates of cardiovascular disease enjoyed in France despite a national diet traditionally rich in cholesterol and saturated fat. The French, of course, are also known as high per capita consumers of alcohol, particularly in the form of red wine. Recent research appears to have established that the consumption of alcohol in moderation offers significant protection for the cardiovascular system, and may even reduce the incidence of related diseases by as much as 30%. There is good evidence, however, that the resveratrol which is almost unique to red wine may provide benefits which go far beyond those which can be explained by the effects of the alcohol alone
This is not surprising in so far as fat-soluble anti-oxidants are known to be important protectors of the circulatory system against damaging attack from free radicals, and the resveratrol and other polyphenols found in red wine are likely to be highly beneficial in this context. Laboratory research, moreover, has revealed significant anti-inflammatory and blood anti-coagulant effects arising from the action of resveratrol.
But there’s still more to resveratrol than this. It’s known that some potentially harmful compounds in the body do not become carcinogenic unless and until they are metabolised by particular enzymes. Resveratrol has been shown in some laboratory research to help inhibit the activity of these enzymes and it seems possible that resveratrol may therefore have some protective effect against certain cancers. Resveratrol has also been shown in the laboratory to slow the proliferation of DNA damaged cells, which have the potential to become cancerous, and to allow time for the repair or removal of DNA damaged cells before rapid and harmful proliferation can occur. Invasive cancer tumours depend on specialised enzymes to allow them to take over healthy tissue and also need to establish their own blood supply if they are to develop. Resveratrol has been found in the laboratory to have inhibiting effects on both these processes, perhaps principally because of its anti-inflammatory qualities.
Orthodox opinion, however, currently maintains that more large scale trials are required outside the laboratory before any protective effects of resveratrol against cancer can be definitively established.
But the anti-inflammatory properties of resveratrol may also have a significant protective effect in the battle against atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a significant precursor of serious cardiovascular disease. Resveratrol has also been shown to play an important role in preventing the formation of the blood clots which if they obstruct a coronary or cerebral artery may lead to a heart attack or stroke, two of the leading causes of premature death or disability in the affluent Western world.
And amazingly enough it appears that resveratrol may also have a more direct effect in terms of increasing longevity. A good deal of research has shown that reduced calorie intake may increase lifespans, including those of certain mammalian species, apparently by increasing the activity of specific enzymes. Resveratrol has also been shown to stimulate these enzymes and to enhance the life spans of worms and fruit flies. It is not known whether these findings would be replicated in higher life forms, humans included, but there seems no logical reason why they should not.
To obtain a significant intake of this potentially highly beneficial compound from wine you need to concentrate on red wine, because only this is produced by a pulp fermentation including the red or black grape skins where most of the resveratrol is found. As a rule of thumb, the richer and darker the colour of the wine, the longer the pulp fermentation will have lasted, and the more resveratrol and other polyphenols the wine will contain. Generally speaking it is those produced in the sunnier latitudes which will have the highest concentration.
No toxicity issues have been reported from the intake of resveratrol, as such, although problems of course may arise if red wine is used to excess to achieve a desired high intake. Supplements of resveratrol providing up to 50 mg are now readily available, however; whilst moderate consumption of alcohol is now generally recognised as potential boon to health, and to be particularly protective of the cardiovascular system. So there seems to be every reason to continue to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine of an evening. And your enjoyment can only be increased by the awareness that the resveratrol it contains may well be doing your health a power of good.
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