On November 17, 1991, 60 Minutes aired a segment about the French Paradox. Simply put, the paradox in question is the French consume vast amounts of saturated fat yet enjoy a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease. This phenomenon was identified and named by Serge Renaud, a French medical researcher who went on to postulate that the potentially deleterious effects of the French diet were mitigated by Gallic consumption of…red wine. Red wine sales in America increased 40 percent almost literally overnight after the 60 minutes broadcast.
Renaud, who was then part of the faculty at the University of Bordeaux, seemed to equivocate a bit himself when he and a colleague published a paper in 1992 in The Lancet suggesting that because wine is commonly consumed with meals, it is absorbed more slowly than alcohol drunk alone and thus affects artery-clogging platelets when they are “under the influence of alimentary lipids that are known to increase their reactivity.”
Red wine got another boost in 2003, when David Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, discovered the life-extending properties (in laboratory mice) of one of the compounds found in wine, resveratrol. Resveratrol is said to work by stimulating a group of genes called sirtuins, which help slow the aging process and promote general health.
Scientists have, in any case, started looking at other phenols found in wine, specifically a class of flavonoids with the mouth-filling name of oligomeric proanthocyanidins, or OPCs. OPCs are antioxidants and, unlike resveratrol, are present in wine in quantities that might be large enough to actually affect body chemistry.
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