The term French paradox was coined in 1992 to describe the relatively low incidence of cardiovascular disease in the French population, despite a relatively high dietary intake of saturated fats, and potentially attributable to the consumption of red wine.
After nearly 20 years, several studies have investigated the fascinating, overwhelmingly positive biological and clinical associations of red wine consumption with cardiovascular disease and mortality.
Light to moderate intake of red wine produces a kaleidoscope of potentially beneficial effects that target all phases of the atherosclerotic process, from atherogenesis (early plaque development and growth) to vessel occlusion (flow-mediated dilatation, thrombosis). Such beneficial effects involve cellular signaling mechanisms, interactions at the genomic level, and biochemical modifications of cellular and plasma components.
Red wine components, especially alcohol, resveratrol, and other polyphenolic compounds, may decrease oxidative stress, enhance cholesterol efflux from vessel walls (mainly by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol), and inhibit lipoproteins oxidation, macrophage cholesterol accumulation, and foam-cell formation.
These components may also increase nitric oxide bioavailability, thereby antagonizing the development of endothelial dysfunction, decrease blood viscosity, improve insulin sensitivity, counteract platelet hyperactivity, inhibit platelet adhesion to fibrinogen-coated surfaces, and decrease plasma levels of von Willebrand factor, fibrinogen, and coagulation factor VII. Light to moderate red wine consumption is also associated with a favorable genetic modulation of fibrinolytic proteins, ultimately increasing the surface-localized endothelial cell fibrinolysis.
Overall, therefore, the “French paradox” may have its basis within a milieu containing several key molecules, so that favorable cardiovascular benefits might be primarily attributable to combined, additive, or perhaps synergistic effects of alcohol and other wine components on atherogenesis, coagulation, and fibrinolysis. Conversely, chronic heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events.
In conclusion, although mounting evidence strongly supports beneficial cardiovascular effects of moderate red wine consumption (one to two drinks per day; 10-30 g alcohol) in most populations, clinical advice to abstainers to initiate daily alcohol consumption has not yet been substantiated in the literature and must be considered with caution on an individual basis.
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