Skip to main content

A fond farewell to the father of the French Paradox


This has been a year of continued affirmation of the role of wine as a central component of healthy living, but rather than a review I would like to pay tribute to Serge Renaud, considered by many to be the father of the “French paradox.” It was a seminal moment in 1991, on the CBS-television show “60 Minutes” when Dr. Renaud offered that “A moderate and regular wine consumption of one to three drinks per day, which is common in France, protects us” from the much higher incidence of heart disease in America.  Dr. Renaud collapsed walking to the beach near his Mediterranean home on October 28 at age 85.

Though born the son of a winemaker, Renaud’s early studies focused on dietary factors comprising what would later come to be known as the Mediterranean Diet. There were important differences in the composition of dietary fats -specifically omega -3 and 6 fatty acids - that seemed to hold the key. Over time however it became apparent that regular wine consumption was a critical part of the diet, and provided an explanation for lower rates of heart disease in parts of France where the diet included more fatty foods. The French Paradox thusly became an iconic symbol and opened a rich vein of research. Publications on the subject now number in the thousands and new discoveries are reported almost daily.

I was fortunate to have met Dr. Renaud on two occasions. He was gracious and generous. It is hard to overestimate the influence he had, both from his many years of research and his vigorous defense of the French paradox. The idea of wine as health food was radical, but he leaves a legacy of science at its best – finding the unexpected just because that’s where the evidence leads. I like to think that he is enjoying his allocation of the angels’ share.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Wear red and DRINK red for women’s heart health

This Friday Feb 2nd is the annual “wear red” day in Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness for women’s heart health. Why only a day for the number one threat to women’s health? Women are 5 times more likely to succumb to heart disease than breast cancer, which gets a whole month (October.) Another contradiction is that the advice women hear about prevention of breast cancer is the opposite of what you can do to lower the risk of heart disease: a daily glass of wine. Even one drink a day raises your risk of breast cancer, we are told, ignoring the overriding benefits of wine on heart health. Drink red wine to live longer Here’s why I think women should also “drink red.” For starters, wine helps de-stress and celebrates life. Stress is a factor in heart disease, and if that were the only way wine helped it would be worth considering. But the medical evidence is also strong: a daily glass of red wine helps raise the HDL “good cholesterol” levels, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular p…

How globalization of drinking habits threatens the French paradox

It seems that the more studies we see on the relationship between wine and health, and the larger they are, the more contradictory the results. Headlines summarizing comprehensive international studies declare the French paradox dead, and all alcoholic beverages are equally detrimental. I think there is an overlooked explanation for this: over the past several decades, convergence of drinking patterns around the world has separated wine from its role as a daily part of a meal. Globalization has commoditized our views about drink, toppling it from its role as a culturally specific emblem. Global convergence of drinking There are several recent reports summarizing the trend,[i],[ii],[iii]and it applies for both developed and developing countries. Since the early 1960s, wine’s share of global alcohol consumption has more than halved, declining from 35% to 15%. Beer and spirits have taken up the slack, with beer gaining 42% and spirits adding 43%, both large gains. The bigger story howeve…

Which types of wine are the healthiest?

I am often asked after lecturing on the healthful properties of wine which type is best to drink. Since much of the discussion has to do with the polyphenol antioxidants from the skins and seeds of the grape, red wine is the first criterion since it is fermented with the whole grape rather than the pressed juice. This allows for extraction and concentration of these compounds, familiar ones being resveratrol and tannins. But beyond that, which varietals have the highest concentrations?


According to the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, “The best kind of wine is that which is pleasant to him that drinks it” but modern science expects more specifics. (The point of course is that if you have a wine that you enjoy you are more likely to drink regularly and therefore reap the benefits.) But there are several difficulties in singling out certain wines for their healthful properties. Which compounds to measure? Are we talking about heart health or the whole gamut? Is it the varietal of the …