Wednesday, December 26, 2012

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.

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